Studios back claim alleging copyright infringement

Hollywood studios are expected to back the Directors Guild of America in a legal move today against companies and stores that rent and sell sanitized versions of films.

The eight majors will jointly file a claim alleging copyright infringement by retailers and tech companies involved in selling and editing altered videos and DVDs. The action is a response to the DGA’s attempt to expand the scope of a federal lawsuit involving sanitized films.

Move is the latest development in a hot-button battle over whether movie-rental and software companies can legally alter a film by excising sex, violence and foul language from videos and DVDs. Such practices are aimed at consumers put off by explicit films and have gained traction in Utah and Colorado, partly due to the growing ease with which content may be digitally changed.

The studios, particularly those specializing in family fare such as Disney, had been hesitant to enter the fray but have apparently been swayed after months of ardent lobbying by top directors and guild leaders. Helmers argue that the sanitized videos are a scam because they generate profits by significantly altering finished films while still passing them off as the works of the original directors.

In their filing today in Denver federal court, the studios are expected to ask for a ruling that the editing practices violate their rights as copyright holders. They will also ask the court to grant an injunction to prevent distribution of the edited videos.

The legal wrangling began in August when Colorado-based retailer CleanFlicks and inventor Robert Huntsman sued 16 leading directors — including Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and Steven Spielberg — seeking a ruling that CleanFlicks and Huntsman have a First Amendment right to edit videos and DVDs for private use.

The DGA responded in September with a counterclaim against CleanFlicks, Huntsman and 13 other parties and sought to bring the studios on board.

No trial date has been set.

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