A modern Dr Bowdler...
January 11, 2001 5:20 PM   Subscribe

A modern Dr Bowdler... (yeah, I know it's Salon, but...) A video-rental store in Utah offers "cleaned up" versions of modern films. First thought: is it legal? Post-DeCSS, one would think not: after all, the MPAA has done its best to protect its right to control the manner of reproduction. But are the studios not jumping to litigate, because they're happier to alienate Linux users with DVD drives than the LDS contingent in UT?
posted by holgate (31 comments total)
Oh, an explanation of the headline.
posted by holgate at 5:22 PM on January 11, 2001

I dont know that techknical talk but filth is filth and thats not gods way
posted by Postroad at 5:37 PM on January 11, 2001

Postroad, would you care to expand on that? Do you mean that no motion pictures, books, plays, etc. containing scenes with nudity and/or violenceshould be permitted, or that Ray Lines is not doing anything illegal, or that there should be more folks doing the same thing he does? Let's have a discussion here.

That said, I don't know much about copyright law, but it seems to me that what he is doing is reasonable, provided that these videos are sold/rented with acknowledgment that editing has taken place. How do networks handle the editing of film for the public airwaves?
posted by Avogadro at 5:53 PM on January 11, 2001

I'm very, very much against this, although, it seems to me to be no different than tv editing. However, since it's ONE local video store, doesn't seem like he would have enough money to buy the rights to all these films. (Is that how you do it?)
posted by tiaka at 6:06 PM on January 11, 2001

I wonder what they do with the out-takes.
posted by leo at 7:29 PM on January 11, 2001

I'm very, very much against this, although, it seems to me to be no different than tv editing.

Yeah, I was thinking about this: but that's the distinction between rental rights and broadcast rights. Networks have to pay big money, and that also gives them the right to edit for time & content (Disney Channel paid $20million for "Stuart Little", for instance); you even have to stump up for the right to show movies in public places, say a bar or a laundromat. There's no way that this could apply in this case, where it basically looks like one man, a pile of store-bought tapes, and an editing suite.

In fact, I'm pretty sure this relates to the litigation in the 80s that home video rental and purchase a reality. The compromise with the MPAA provides affordable access to tapes in exchange for a highly restrictive licence that prevents anything other than "noncommercial private home use". The standard disclaimer's clear enough: "modification of the materials or use of the materials for any other purpose is a violation of the Copyrights and any other proprietary rights."

I could probably get over my artistic qualms over this bowdlerisation if it led to a relaxation of this licence, and (say) greater freedom for Linux users to watch DVDs they've legally bought.

(and leo: I'd guess the out-takes go to another store, just over the state line, like the firework stores in Alabama and Tennessee.)
posted by holgate at 7:32 PM on January 11, 2001

Feh: "that made home video rental..."
posted by holgate at 7:33 PM on January 11, 2001

And I don't want to hog the thread, but this list of "Movies We Can't Edit made my evening, simply by its inclusion of such grossly indecent and morally corrupting films as "Election" and "Caddyshack".

Conversely, the store recommends "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Matrix" as "Editor's Favourites", which boggles the mind, as both would probably end up as shorts if you edited for violence.

(tiaka: I can imagine Kubrick coming out very badly here. "Eyes Wide Shut" is a strict no-no, and I doubt they offer "Full Metal Jacket" or "Lolita". "2001" might just make it, though. And you should ask if there's a special 30-second version of "A Clockwork Orange" that they can put together.)
posted by holgate at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2001


I'd hate to rain on anyone's movie enjoyment, but BlockBuster has been editing films for public consumption "Family-izing them" for years....

posted by theNonsuch at 9:19 PM on January 11, 2001

Heh holgate.
2001 is rated G, so, I really don't see any problems here. As far as his other films, I think Paths of Glory, The Killing and Killer's Kiss would be ok. Spartacus has some violence in it, so, I don't know. Lolita and Dr. Strangelove should be ok, and then on, I really don't know.
posted by tiaka at 9:24 PM on January 11, 2001

The classic story about Blockbuster -- don't know if it's true or I'm doing my part to spread an urban legend -- is that they edited Superfly to remove any implications that the protagonist (black) was scoring with a white woman.
posted by snarkout at 10:32 PM on January 11, 2001

I'll bet this guy really enjoys his work. Imagine rewinding and viewing scenes over and over again to painstakingly pause and edit just before a hint of nudity is shown.

The edited footage would make an excellent pastiche type of art project. Perhaps a comment on American culture? Better yet he should open another video store outside of town and call it "Just the Good Stuff"
posted by ooklah at 11:03 PM on January 11, 2001

I think with the movies they can't edit, they're not saying that the movies are good or bad. I think CleanFlicks may have tried to edit it, and realized that it's impossible to do so without literally destroying the film. Payback for example. The violence is integral to the plot and the story cannot be told without it. Blair Witch Project without the use of profanity would be a silent film. So maybe they're acknowledging that some movies can't be edited for General Audiences, but that in other cases there is "excessive" or " unnecessary" violence or sex or profanity which can be removed without adversely affecting the material, and in those situations it's feasible to censor. They are wrong, but they have a right to their opinion. In my opinion, any censorship literally destroys the work being censored.

...customer Mike Eisenstat told the Salt Lake Tribune. "There are a lot of great movies out there, but there is no way I could see them or allow them in my home unless they were edited. They have too much filth and language."

HellO? How can a great movie have too much filth and language in it? If it has too much filth and language in it, it doesn't make a great movie. Does it? I mean if you're gonna live by mormon criteria here. If a film is great before censorship, removing the elements you don't like doesn't make the film better. It diminishes the piece. The fact is, this is yet another mindless excursion into the depths of false purity.

Kubrick intended for Clockwork Orange to be as filthy and disgusting as it is. That's what makes it so damn great. To remove even that obnoxious rocking penis sculpture from the film, or the fast-forward menagetoi (sp?) scene, is to belittle the effort put into it. Were I a director, I would want my film to be seen only as I edited it, and would be offended by anyone who tried to re-edit MY film. There is no such thing as acceptable levels of censorship. There is no place where the line can be drawn. Don't want filth? Don't watch. Allowing it to be cut and "cleansed in the blood of the lamb" sickens me.

posted by ZachsMind at 11:12 PM on January 11, 2001

Zach, you bring up an interesting thought.
A good director would not want his work trashed.
Perhaps Alan Smithee will now get the direction credits for these edited films.
Kind of like an album remix.
posted by ooklah at 11:24 PM on January 11, 2001


It's fairly well established that studios will often include material to get the R rating because it means increased revenues. That would seem to be a commercial decision, rather than a strictly aesthetic one.

It would also appear that the "cleanflicks" proprietor is not editing every single master copy of a film, in perpetuity, but local rental distributions. The customers know that they are getting a bowdlerized version--in fact, that is why they are renting them in the first place.

I don't have a legal definition of censorship at hand, but according to the definition I just pulled out of my common-sense file, doesn't censorship imply the witholding of information from the public by an authority?

In the case of clean flicks, there are gazillions of non-edited rentals available in that area (I believe), and the customers, by virtue of paying for them, are indicating that they *want* the edited versions.

When DVD was first being hyped, consumers were told that the possibility existed to create a switch or setting that would show "alternate" takes of film, including less bawdy versions. This hasn't happened, to my knowledge. I don't know why they couldn't slap the airline edits on a DVD. (I don't think Castaway will ever be shown in the air, though).

Frankly, I think this guy is filling an unmet market need, and nobody is being denied potential revenue or the opportunity to watch uncut versions.

I think a more principled stand on the part of Mormons (or anyone) who find R-rated movies objectionable would be to follow the counsel of their church leaders and *not attend any R-rated movies* simply because doing so casts an economic vote in favor of their production.

posted by mecran01 at 4:49 AM on January 12, 2001

Personally, if people want an edited version of the film that's their business. I don't really think there's much of an issue with him buying a movie, editing out the "bad stuff" and selling it. There are, however, a couple of caveats.

It all boils down to the fact that he shouldn't be allowed to profit from it. If he can proove that he pays for his time somehow (say, a standard editors salary or something) only and the company isn't turning a profit, then hey, go for it. If he's covering his expenses in terms of equipment, renting the space he uses, all those standard fixed costs, more power to him.

Also, if he were to get licensing, he could then edit a master copy and distribute the results. I think, as news of his activities get out there, officially bowlderized versions may become something studios do.

Renting them out is another issue entirely. Videos for rentals, the one you get from Blockbuster say, cost Blockbuster a whole lot more than your regular copy of it. I'm not completely certain of the details, but video companies either pay a cut of the rental fees, or they pay a large initial outlay.
posted by cCranium at 6:22 AM on January 12, 2001

I live down the road from the store that edits these... and there has been quite a stink. The fact of the matter is this: after you buy something, you can pretty much do with it as you will (with in reason).

These folks purchase the videos and then pay someone to alter them... not unlike after-market car "improvements".

If the studios had delivered on their promises to create DVDs with variable movie ratings, then they could have made a buck on many people's desire to see these movies but not to have to endure the gratuitous adult material.

posted by silusGROK at 9:28 AM on January 12, 2001

Two things:

cC: Blockbuster pays the same thing you do for all movies (some are not priced to buy at their initial release and cost around $70-100 per copy and are only available from distributors)

and I would like to see what they can do with Alice in Wonderland... since it's all acid trips and less savory things.
posted by tj at 9:30 AM on January 12, 2001

This reminds me of the wonderful film "Cinema Paradiso" where the projectionist was forced by the local priest to cut footage out of films where there was kissing or flirting. The best part of the movie is the end where these cut scenes reappear. Let's hope that people figure out that they're getting an incomplete document. Filmmakers should be protesting this type of thing. Whether it's on the "master copy" or not, it still circulates a version of their work that is compromised.
posted by jmcnally at 10:19 AM on January 12, 2001

tj, does blockbuster have to send some of the proceeds from rentals to the studios?

Let's hope that people figure out that they're getting an incomplete document

James, I think you're misphrasing it. I'm pretty sure everyone that buys or rents from this plays knows full well that what they're getting has been editing. That's the whole reason they're going there.

My real issue with this is with licensing. Oh man the urge to link this to Napster and Free Information is so strong, but I've beaten that horse so dead it's been born again twice over.

A movie, as a whole, is a work of art. It may not be powerful, and it may not be a very good work of art, and it may even be crap put on film to make money, but it is, fundamentally, art. The message of that art is a message that's contained in the art as a whole.

Anyone other than the production team (esp. the director) who edits that movie is changing the message. And it isn't as though there's only one message per movie, either.

Running with the current example, Saving Private Ryan. The story can easily be told without showing the beach invasion, or most of the battle scenes. Certainly editing various body parts being blown to pieces doesn't hurt the plot, but one of the movie's primary messages is "Look at what happened. Look at what we did. We don't ever want to do this again."

It can easily be argued that some of the power behind the way the movie presented that message is lost when the gorier scenes are cut.

Having said all that I don't think this guy's doing anything inherently wrong, per se. I mean, he sent letters to at least one studio and said "Hey, I'm doing this. Izzat cool?" and they haven't said anything. He's obviously seen a market, and has acted on it, and once again a large, slow to act corporation was beat by a quick-thinking (and quick acting) entrepreneur.
posted by cCranium at 11:10 AM on January 12, 2001

How is this any different from what Walmart does to its CDs?
posted by srw12 at 11:19 AM on January 12, 2001

Yes, because the modifications are done by the label (the license holders) to be able to sell them at Wal-mart. If the modifications to the movies where made by the studios, I wouldn't really care, I'd just make sure that I didn't get the over-edited version.
posted by cCranium at 12:23 PM on January 12, 2001

If he's buying tapes, and editing scenes out of them *as he copies them to other tapes*, then yes, he is engaging in criminal violation of copyright (he's doing it commercially). There *is no way* to edit VHS videotape without making a copy of it. Anyone else got questions on this one? :-)
posted by baylink at 1:25 PM on January 12, 2001

You can cut VHS videotape and tape it back together. Sure, they're not the cleanest edits, but it can be done. I've repaired a couple of ripped tapes in the past. :-)
posted by cCranium at 2:13 PM on January 12, 2001

There *is no way* to edit VHS videotape without making a copy of it.

But what if the consumer is buying the video, and hiring him to make one copy for personal use? Isn't this basically the same as video places who do things like convert videos from PAL to NTSC? Because many places do that, and that does involve making a copy, and they do make a profit off it...
posted by dagnyscott at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2001

And strictly speaking, those places are breaking the law as well. But, as you note, they're doing it at the *direct* request of a *specific* customer who *had title to the purchased product first*.

None of those qualifiers describe this guy.

Or, at least, I'm pretty sure that's how the legal defense would run.

I see
Lines' attorney asserts that his client is not doing anything wrong. Each video is purchased and edited individually. The filmmakers are getting paid for each video, because no copies are made.

But, if indeed he is *physically* editing each tape, which I don't believe for even a femtosecond, his renters deserve what they get: they *WILL* need to completely replace at least one head in fairly short order; the VHS system is *NOT* designed to deal with splicing tape.

But, to follow up on someone else's post, no, you'll find he doesn't even have the legal authority to do what he's doing if he *doesn't* copy the tapes. The copyright owner of a motion picture is, so far as I know, the only person allowed to make a "derivative work", which is what he's doing, without a special license.

So he's *still* breaking the law.

posted by baylink at 5:59 PM on January 12, 2001

Oh, and Avogadro? Please don't feed the trolls... ;-)
posted by baylink at 6:01 PM on January 12, 2001

Damn. It's been a long time since I've seen HTH, I actually had to look it up. <sigh>

("Hope This Helps", for those equally clueless)
posted by cCranium at 6:19 PM on January 12, 2001

The fact of the matter is this: after you buy something, you can pretty much do with it as you will (with in reason).

The DeCSS case suggests that the law of first sale doesn't apply here. It's not like buying a car which you can then get modified -- or even like buying a PSX which you then get chipped. When you rent or buy a film on tape or DVD, you're not buying "the film", but a licence to watch it under certain conditions, which is facilitated by the tape/disc: a service, if you like, rather than goods. (The same sort of conditions apply to computer software.)

So you might be able to do whatever you like to the videotape, but my amateur legal skills would suggest that you'd run into copyright trouble as soon as you tried to watch its contents.
posted by holgate at 9:06 PM on January 12, 2001

cC: I'm not entirely sure... but I don't think that the rental outlets send any extra cash over to the studios (hence the rather hefty "price to rent" cost )

side note: I *would* post this in Metatalk since this is a little off topic and all... but this ends my knowledge of it ... so there
posted by tj at 1:28 AM on January 13, 2001

tj, I don't think it's off-topic. Part of my argument that this guy is "doing something wrong" is based on the fact that studios get more money from rental cassettes then they do from direct-to-customer sales.

If that's incorrect, and the studios are actually getting the same amount of money, then that fact invalidates one aspect of my argument.

(But only that one, there's still various copyright laws and whatnot he's violating. :-)

I do think studios must get some extra money from rental companies. There's a lot of money floating around the rental companies, I imagine studios would try to get their hands on some.

side-note: I did a couple of quick searches to try and find info, but couldn't. One of them was on AskJeeves.com (I so want that to work, but it never does) where I asked "do movie studios get money from rental companies?" and one of the top results was "Where can I find profiles of companies in the aerospace and defence industry?" I find that amusing.
posted by cCranium at 6:08 AM on January 13, 2001

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