Court orders end to sales of 'clean' pix

A federal judge in Denver has ordered four companies to stop selling cleaned-up versions of Hollywood films, finding that the practice violates federal copyright law.

Decision by Judge Richard P. Matsch, issued Thursday, culminates a four-year legal battle that began when Utah-based CleanFlicks launched a preemptive suit against the DGA and 16 leading directors — including guild prexy Michael Apted, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese — hoping to obtain a favorable court ruling that would legally christen the practice of altering films.

The DGA was able to persuade the Hollywood studios to join the action as defendants and via a counterclaim.

Matsch, in a 16-page ruling, found that CleanFlicks, Family Flix, CleanFilms and Play It Clean Video were violating the studios’ rights as copyright holders “to control the reproduction and distribution of the protected work in their original form.”

“It is particularly gratifying that the court recognized that this conduct is not permitted under copyright laws,” Apted said in a statement. “Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choice of a third-party editor.”

Apted also said that the case was of particular import to directors as their films are the basis of their reputation.

“No matter how many disclaimers are put on the film, it still carries the director’s name,” he added. “So we have great passion about protecting our work, which is our signature and brand identification, against unauthorized editing.”

The companies had claimed that the doctrine of “fair use” gave them the right to edit the films, and CleanFlicks said it would appeal the ruling. Matsch also ordered the businesses to turn over their inventories to the studios within five days.

CleanFlicks and Family Flix create sanitized versions of movies, while CleanFilms and Play It Clean Video are retailers of the altered pics.

Matsch’s ruling impacts only the companies selling altered versions of the films and doesn’t affect companies selling software that skips and mutes parts of movies on DVD. In a ruling last year, Matsch dismissed all claims in a lawsuit filed by the DGA and Hollywood studios against ClearPlay over its software that filters adult language and content from DVDs.

That decision came four months after President Bush signed the Family Entertainment Copyright Act, a package of antipiracy measures. Over Hollywood’s objections, that legislation included the Family Movie Act language that established the legality of using technology to skip over a movie’s video or audio content.

ClearPlay CEO Bill Aho said in a statement that he opposed Matsch’s latest ruling, “While it may be good for ClearPlay Inc., it’s bad for parents. Moms and dads need all the help they can get to protect their kids, and these companies were providing a valuable service.”

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