Wednesday, July 12, 2006

CleanFlicks (Or, "How I Learned to Love the Puritanical Censor")

I have great sympathy for the arguments espoused by the Director's Guild of America concerning the 'scrubbing' and reselling of their films:
"Directors put their skill, craft and often years of hard work into the creation of a film," added [DGA President Michael] Apted, whose own repertoire includes the 1999 James Bond adventure The World Is Not Enough and Gorillas in the Mist. "These films carry our name and reflect our reputations. So we have great passion about protecting our work...against unauthorized editing."
As a legal matter, I think the judge probably reached the 'correct' ruling, given extant copywrite law. So in that aspect, I'm not sure I agree with XWL that this decision will, in fact, get overturned (given the Eldred decision, and that the Court certainly hasn't become less friendly to The Mouse and co. since then...)

That said, I do agree with the Immodest Proposer (and Reason's Nick Gillespie) in that this is bad as a policy matter:
As for the case just decided in Denver: I have no problem with gratuitous nudity (is there any other kind in a movie?), foul language, and graphic violence; but I'm squarely on the side of the easily offended CleanFlicks' customers. They are doing precisely what technology is there for: to create the sort of art, music, video, and text that an individual or group of individuals wants to consume.
Just so, especially, given that
[b]y all accounts, the CleanFlicks-type outfits weren't ripping off Hollywood in any way, shape, or form—they were paying full fees for content—and they weren't fooling anyone into thinking their versions were the originals; (emphasis mine)
(Though I'm not willing to fully buy the argument that "they weren't fooling anyone." That proves too much - I'm not fooling anyone with my Hong Kong made bootleg either, but I don't think that's kosher...)

RIA sez:
I'm of the opinion that with Art, you take it or leave it. You don't get to take someone else's vision and remake it into your own image for resale. Or at least shouldn't be able to, without permission.
Well first of all, why not? I'm serious here, Saving Private Ryan without the Normandy Beach scene is not the same movie - in my aesthetic judgment, it is miles worse, and I think most film consumers would agree. Can't we be trusted to make that decision?

Further, this leads to all sorts of imponderables such as when is use of a 'vision' a 'remake' and when is it an 'inspiration?' Also, I think RIA is mistaken, as a legal matter, here:

There are plenty of technologies to help me skip past the parts I find unnecessary.

To which technologies, by the way, the court decision does not apply, as noted in the article, nor do I argue that they should, as used by individual consumers. Nor do I buy the argument that the ruling opens the door, much less sets up a slippery slope, leading to forced commercial-watching or banning of TIVO, etc.

Actually, that is precisely what overly strong copywrite protections threaten with regards to broadcast media - the network 'owns' the content, and it can argue that the commercial breaks are integral to their artistic vision. Who are you to question that? Of course it isn't true, but prove it. Because that's what we want - a court deciding what does and does not belong as part of a performance...

LeMew has more - a taste:
Matt is also right that it's important not to be diverted by distaste for the CleanFlix enterprise. First of all, what the company is doing is not terribly unusual; various forms of content that the mass audience might find objectionable are systematically removed to show movies on broadcast TV and airlines(*), for example, and the former further bowlderizes films to fit time slots and include commercials. Being a snooty civil libertarian aesthete with no kids, I find all of this silly, and in fact I pretty much never watch movies on broadcast TV or airlines, do not think that random bad words or stray nipples on TV present a massive cultural crisis, think that film would probably benefit from more nudity and eroticism (although probably could do with less movies about blowing stuff up) etc. etc. But the puritanism of CleanFlix is also essentially harmless--as opponents of puritan busybodyism often note, nobody's forcing you to watch their products--and of course ex post facto changes are infinitely preferable (for both artists and audiences) to preventing the work from being done in the first place. Instinctive hostility to middlebrow "family values" groups shouldn't compel one to fall into the trap of advocating terrible copyrights laws. It's also worth reiterating that where Congress' copyright powers are concerned, consequentialist analysis is not merely useful but required; the Constitution specifically does not hold that copyrights are a sacrosanct abstract right, but are designed to advance the public interest, which decisions like this manifestly fail to do. (emphasis mine)
FWIW, I think the bolded point goes a long way to answering RIA's 'take it or leave it' viewpoint - and I can see (in a better world, perhaps) where allowing CleanFlix, etc. allows for more content - where this is allowed I can certainly see the arbitrary influence of the MPAA waning, and that's never a bad thing.


XWL said...

We know what the RIA thinks, but what about the RZA?

(Wu Tang should branch out into Constitutional and Property Rights Law, imagine the textbook)

And thanks for the comments at my site and Done With Mirrors, and thanks for the link.

slickdpdx said...

I totally agree. To those arguing against clean flicks or for the "integrity" of the artist's expression - - where would that leave you with unauthorized mashups, remixes, covers, trailers and so on?