The town’s elite directors, who covet their power over “final cut,” awakened recently to an ugly realization: Some people have been quietly re-editing their movies into their own final cut, and they haven’t bothered asking permission. Needless to say, the directors are headed to court.

Understandably so. A company called CleanFlicks has decided to re-edit movies ranging from “Shrek” to “Saving Private Ryan” and sell their sanitized videos in some 76 outlets in 18 states. And it’s a growing business. Their supposed raison d’être is that they know what their people want — movies without sex or violence. “Bridget Jones Diary” has some naughty references? Snip them out. Some innuendo sneaks into “Shrek?” Zap it.

What all this entails, of course, is an outrageous invasion of artists’ rights. “It’s wrong to cut scenes from a film, just as it is to rip pages from a book, simply because we don’t like the way something was portrayed or said, then resell it with the original title and the creator’s name still on it,” says Martha Coolidge, president of the Directors Guild of America, which filed suit against CleanFlicks.

There are some fascinating legal nuances to all this. Does re-editing films run counter to the “derivative work right’ of copyright holders? A few of the Utah movie rental companies have set themselves up as co-ops whose “members” rent videos from the store that claims to own them — a weird twist on the “fair use” doctrine.

Censorship is ugly in all its manifestations, and its justification on moral grounds is bogus. If the pop culture offends someone, he is free to abstain from it. But to distort the contents of movies, books or TV shows reflects a gross misunderstanding of the nature of a free society. Hollywood should throw its support behind the DGA in its worthy cause.

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