An appeals judge has ruled that businesses who purchase popular Hollywood movies, then re-edit them to remove content they consider “objectionable,” then re-sell the “sanitized” versions are violating copyright law. The full story can be found on Yahoo.
I think this is the right decision for a couple of reasons.
First, there’s the position held by the directors who filed the copyright infringement suits to begin with: these third-party companies, by changing the content, are altering the directors’ visions of the works. As a writer, I would certainly not want to write a novel only to have a book store sell verions with certain pages ripped out. I’d want the reader to get the whole story. If something I write is objectionable, I want to hear that from readers, not companies who attempt to decide for the readers why it’s objectionable. And someone else shouldn’t be able to make additional money off of my work without my being involved. When it comes to considering which elements of the story need to be there and why, the person who originates the work will have spent a lot more time on such decisions than someone who comes in just to remove “problematic elements” that may or may not take the individual story into consideration.
Second, there’s the whole supply and demand issue. People complain about excessive amounts of adult content in today’s films. And many of those complaints are justified. But the way to send Hollywood a message isn’t to buy sanitized versions of films: on the movie studios’ ledgers, every sanitized version still counts as an individual sale of a copy of that work. If a company that “scrubs” films creates a 10% increase in sales for a film that had racy material, what do you think Hollywood is going to do, given that they’re seeing a 10% increase in sales of their film? Are they likely to do enough research to see that the additional sales comes from edited versions? Not always.
The best way to send a message to Hollywood, if you think a film’s content is inappropriate, is to not buy the film.
I don’t buy this whole idea using these services so that you can be able to show R-rated films to kids. If it’s R-rated, there are content issues that don’t involve naked bodies or gory violence that might have contributed to the rating. If you have a young child who you don’t want to see a rape scene, why would you want the child to see a movie that somehow deals with rape, even if the act itself isn’t shown? If there’s a great action flick about knights battling for a fair maiden, and a scene in which the hero slays an evil warrior with his saber is cut by editors who screen out the blood-filled shot of the sword making contact, do you think that the child won’t get the fact that a killing has happened? If you’re worried about children and how they deal with violence, shouldn’t you be as worried about violence even when the blood shots are cut out?
It’s a lot like the decision made a few years ago to “remove” the violence from “The Jerry Springer Show.” What resulted wasn’t a show that didn’t feature confrontations; instead, when people actually came to blows, the actual punches were replaced with reaction shots of the audience. Did the removal of the shots that actually show the contact suddenly render Springer’s program suitable for young children?
And you’ll have to forgive me if I confide that I have a problem letting someone I don’t know edit someone else’s work to create what they think is a more “acceptable” version for me. What I consider to be appropriate and what they do may not be anywhere near each other. A former Disney animator says that even some G-rated movies contain too much violence and are really inappropriate for kids. If you can’t always trust a G-rated film, how can you really rest easy with a sanitized film that admittedly wasn’t designed for young children?
A lot of people say movie ratings aren’t strict enough. They might argue, for example, that a film that gets a PG13 rating should really deserve an R. If the ratings are so lax, then a film that actually did get an R must really push the limits of your sensibilities. You should therefore avoid it.
If you don’t like a movie’s content, don’t watch the movie. There are other movies out there, plenty of them, in fact, that will better suit your tastes. Otherwise, you’re simply rewarding Hollywood for its “bad behavior.”