Editing movies to delete objectionable language, sex and violence is an "illegitimate business" that hurts Hollywood studios and directors who own the movie rights, said U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch in a decision released Thursday in Denver.
"Their (studios and directors) objective ... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies," the judge wrote. "There is a public interest in providing such protection."
The key point is that this is an illegitimate business, it is not an illegitimate act.
Selling a movie, let's say for fun, Brokeback Mountain, as a "cleaned-up" family-friendly version, is making a promise thatsanitized works exploit the artistic and economic investment of the creators while adding nothing to or destroying the work you are going to see Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's novel about cowboys, sexuality (both homo- and heterosexual), and the confusion that is the human condition. Would you, if you got the movie without the "adult" sections and with all references to the main topics expurgated, be seeing Brokeback Mountain? Not by a long shot. The opening shots with the mountains, some cattle driving passages, some driving away from cowboys, some driving to cowboys, some fireworks, some crying, but not Brokeback Mountain.
Companies editing and reselling the sanitized versions, against the expressed will of the creators, are not delivering the movies they claim. And the creators have every right not to have a promise made that their works will be delivered, when mangled versions of the works are delivered to customers who paid for it. If you saw the santized Brokeback, you'd probably wonder what it was about, let alone what all the fuss was about, because the story elements these companies cut out are essential to the complete work, and you might decide never ever to see another "boring" Ang Lee movie.
In the truest sense of the word "derivative," these sanitized derivative works exploit the artistic and economic investment of the creators while adding nothing to or destroying the work. Ultimately, if the viewer doesn't want to see the movie in its entirety, they should just not watch it, for they'll never be able to judge the movie on its own merits in the sanitized form.
Remixing and mashups are legitimate artistic undertakings, but where one work ends and other begins is still something we haven't fully figured out. Movies cost a lot to make so borrowing or appropriating—in the artistic sense—film clips is probably not the first place we're going to see rational discussion of how sharing makes media better. However, if someone were to remix Brokeback with Lee's previous films (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Ice Storm; and Hulk, among others) in order to explore Lee's fascination with amorphous sexuality, commitment and the human proclivity for violence, place it free on the Net and title it "Some Other Mountain Where the Tigers and Hulks Freeze" or "Green Monsters, Hidden Cowboys," then I think there would be a legitimate court case in which remixers could argue that they had not created a derivative work but something original.
Having won the case, then it would be a matter of negotiating how to split revenue if the film remixer wanted to commercialize their works. If it were that simple. In the meantime, we're going to have to satisfy ourselves with remixing less "valuable" media than Hollywood films. I think we'll be fine.