Thursday, February 7, 2008

Can I look now? Editing films for sexual content

Dear Rich: I have a question. I love movies but I hate all the sexy stuff -- same with my friends. We have a movie club and before I show a movie, I make a copy in which I cut out all that stuff. Is that illegal?  You are likely violating copyright laws. Of course, whether anyone will find out -- another good reason not to ask Dear Rich questions -- is a matter of conjecture. But should the owners of the films learn of your amateur editing, they could attempt to prevent your handiwork. At least, that's our reading of a 2006 federal court decision. In that case, Marty Scorsese, Stephen Soderbergh, and Sydney Pollak (among other class-A directors) successfully sued Clean Flix, a company that edited films and then re-rented them. Even though the company purchased a separate copy so that studios didn't lose any revenue in the process, a judge ruled that this practice was illegal. Currently, some companies are performing an end-run around this precedent by having a third party edit the copies. (Keep in mind, alas, that some companies who claim to rent "clean" movies, might not be so clean.) It is not illegal, however, under a recent law, to buy and sell a DVD player that filters the movie for you. In other words, you put your movie in the player and voila! No embarrassing shots of Jessica Alba! BTW, in addition to the legal issues mentioned, the showing of films for more than a small gathering of family and friends requires a public performance license. Anyway, if you can't afford to buy a filtering DVD player, may we suggest you distribute these during those unpleasant moments?