An article in CNN highlights the case of a small video rental chain suing the Directors Guild of America over the right to rent versions of films the chain “modified” to remove “objectionable” content. The DGA is preparing its own suit againt the company and others who perform these modifications for profit.
Should a company be allowed to modify movies for which it owns no copyright, nor a license to modify said films? In my first reaction to the suit by CleanFlicks against the DGA, I was firmly against the movie chain making these modifications to the films. After some analysis, I’m not so sure - my initial gut reaction was predicated on the fact that I usually cannot stand the posturing and self-serving attitudes that characterize the “For the Children!” and “Family-Safe” movements that seem every-so-prevalent. I mean, not everything can be nerf-padded and “safe” and all of time. These things are generally easy to avoid (don’t watch them!) and seem like answers to problems which don’t really deserve the attention they get.
Thinking about it a little more, some things occured to me:
1. They aren’t hurting me by doing this. I can still get my Pulp Fiction and Videodrome rentals just fine.
2. I do fully support the right of people to modify what they own. If anyone tried to stop me from hacking my MP3 player to include a larger hard drive because I could do it cheaper than buying it in the first place, I’d be really pissed. I bought it - I own it.
That second point is what seemed to me to be the crux of the matter. If they bought the videos, why should I care what they do with them? They own them. Right?
Wrong. Well almost wrong. While they did purchase the videos from their distributors, complete with a license chain streching back to the studios, this doesn’t mean they actually own the contents on the cassettes. Sure, they could destroy them, hide them in their basement, use them to start fires, whatever. But actually selling “modified” versions of the films seems to go against their agreement in this case.
But lets not take this too far - this shouldn’t extend to, say, using the fast forward button to skip over Samuel L.Jackson saying “Bad Motherfucker”. Anything you do in your home to something you paid for is fair game for me. Selling that to someone else becomes questionable, due to the license. Building a business on the practice seems wrong without the appropriate permission from the copyright holders.
Hell, even manufacturers of braille books, something far more noble than making sure no one hears the word “fuck”, have to get permission from the pulishers - even if they bought copies from Barnes and Noble before hand.
The bottom line? Do it for yourself, it’s ok. Sell it to someone else, and be prepared to feel the heat.
But don’t the movie studios just gain more market share from this renting of hacked films? Probably. Chances are, they are being far to picky about this. In fact, I can easily see them not wanting the competition. Watch for official “clean” versions of movies at your local store. Soon. Mark my words.
And of course the ultimate problem with these people is not that they want to modify these movies - it’s that they are stuck using video cassettes. That should be punishment enough.