DGA vs CleanFlicks

Do self-appointed censors have the right to delete objectionable portions of feature films and offer altered versions for sale? CleanFlicks of Colorado, LLC and a dozen similar companies believe that they do.

Members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) believe otherwise, claiming that unauthorized editing of their works violates US copyright law. The two sides are duking it out in a US District Court in Denver, where CleanFlicks launched a "pre-emptive strike" in anticipation of preventive action from Hollywood. Originated by former television producer Robert Huntsman, Pleasant Grove, Utah–based CleanFlicks edits mainstream movies for sale to consumers who object to excessive violence, profanity, and sexuality.

CleanFlicks and other companies in the cleanup business—ClearPlay, Inc.; Clean Cut Cinemas of Arizona; and Video II of Sandy, Utah among them—either edit the films or provide technology that enables editing by consumers themselves on either VHS tape or DVD. Their primary market is in Utah where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many followers.

Cleaned-up films are nothing new. Movies have been edited for television and for use on airlines for many years, but always with the approval of copyright owners. Specially edited movies have been shown in theaters in Utah and other states and countries for decades. The wrinkle in the CleanFlicks controversy is that the editing is unauthorized. Members of the DGA assert that viewers who see an edited film aren't seeing what the director intended, and that selling or renting altered films amounts to false advertising and trademark infringement. CleanFlicks CEO John Dixon claims that his company's products are clearly marked as edited and therefore aren't deceptively marketed.

Related to the issue, a spoof news story has been making the rounds. In it, a San Fernando Valley–based company called FilthyFlicks adds extra violence, profanity, and sex to movies for its own special market. Company president Rod Cumming says his company specializes in correcting "sins of omission," offering an edition of Raging Bull in which the boxers fight so hard and so long that their heads come off. "I'm just correcting mistakes made in the editing room," says the fictional entrepreneur. "You could call it the ultimate director's cut."