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Why the End of Edited Movies is a Good Thing

I know this will be a controversial stand to take with my audience, but this week’s judgment by U.S. District Court judge Richard P. Matsch, who declared businesses that edit nasty bits out of Hollywood movies are "illegitimate," is actually a good thing for not only the movie industry, but for the future of family entertainment as well.

“This system also has the flexibility of allowing you to select what you want filtered.”

For those not familiar with this tiny specialized industry, there are a handful of companies like CleanFlicks, CleanFilms and a few others who purchase movies on DVD and then edit them to "family" standards by removing dialogue, sexual content and violence they deem to be objectionable. Since they first did this to Titanic when it appeared on home video in the late 1990s, these merchants have discovered a loyal following of customers who want to watch "sanitized" (a word used by the news media describing this process) mainstream movies.

However, the creators of these titles haven't been impressed with having little nuances -- like Kate Winslet's naked breasts in Titanic -- excised from their final product. Perhaps even more surprising, while I am usually quick to approve of nearly anything that will create "better" movies families can watch, even I found it difficult to condone this process.

To understand my position, first it's important to know how these companies operate. From their perspective, in order to stay "legal," they felt it necessary to purchase a commercial DVD for every edited copy they sold. So, lets say you are dying to see last year's "Best Picture" Oscar winner, Crash, but you don't want to hear Sandra Bullock and the rest of the cast say the f-word every 20 seconds.

After placing your order with one of these merchants, they will purchase a DVD of the movie on your behalf. Then they burn a custom edited version of the film (which requires them to "crack" the encryption on the original DVD and usually recompress it with a loss of quality) onto a recordable DVD. Then they "disable" (quoting the term used on the cleanfilms.com website) the original disc, and send it and the edited "backup copy" to you.

As an alternative, most of these companies offer a rental service where you can view, but not keep, the edited backup copy.

Certainly these businesses were sincerely trying to create family appropriate entertainment, and it's reasonable for them to want to earn a living doing so. I understand their motives and appreciate what I feel is a genuine concern for parents who are searching for a way to watch movies, both as adults and with their kids, without having to be on guard with the remote control.

But there are faults within this plan -- and perhaps I relate to one of the greatest issues because I earn my living as a creator of artistic works.

Imagine you have finally written that wonderful novel that has been rolling around in your head for the past few years. After months of hard labor, you get it published. Then, a few weeks after it appears on bookstore shelves, you see another book that looks just like it, but someone has deleted words, paragraphs and even pages within it to suit their own principles and tastes.

That is exactly what these companies do to other people's artistic works. Yes, I know... some of these films are pure trash, and aren't worthy of being deemed works of art. Yet we all want to uphold the basic tenants of free speech, and if you were able to hack this website and alter my words to fit your own beliefs and opinions, that would violate my rights.

Other issues to consider include the fact you are still supporting a movie you find somewhat objectionable. Because these companies buy copies of the movie to match the number of edited copies they create, studios are still benefiting from your purchase. If we truly want to send a message to Hollywood, we need to quit lining their pockets with cash generated from offensive films. Most of us like to see movies, but perhaps we should be prepared to sacrifice to make a statement.

As well, bad words and nudity are easily removed, but what about themes and messages? Would The Fast and the Furious be any better with the bad language removed? Unless they film a closing scene with all the street racers locked up in jail, I still would not want to show this message of a consequence-free life in the fast lane to my kids.

Fortunately, if you still want a way to watch movies with the "edge" removed, there is a compromised alternative I do support. ClearPlay is a technology that allows a special DVD player to skip potentially offensive scenes on a regular DVD. You go to your local rental outlet, or use an online service like NetFlix, and pop the disc into the player. The unit scans the disc and if it recognizes the title, it matches it up with one of the filters that have been downloaded into this special DVD player's memory.

This system also has the flexibility of allowing you to select what you want filtered from 14 different categories, giving you (and not someone else) control of what you do and don't want to see. And, of course, you can choose to watch the movie with no filtering at all.

Obviously, ClearPlay resolves my freedom of expression concerns, but you may still be supporting movies that may not meet your family's standards. However, this technology is completely legal, and is even protected by a recent law that will hopefully encourage more companies to create a wider range of products and filters. (If you enjoy reading fine print, the official law is available here http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ009.109 )

Personally, I'm still waiting for the day when the studios themselves will take advantage of existing and future DVD technology and create "filters" that are integrated onto the disc itself, allowing consumers to select what version of the film they would like to see. At that point, I think we would have the ultimate win-win scenario where families (and perhaps even theaters -- once digital projection comes into wide use) can choose if the film is going to be rated PG or PG-13.

If you want more information about ClearPlay, check this page [http://www.clearplay.com/ptc/] and help support the efforts of the Parent's Television Council. For more information on Judge Matsch's ruling, check this article http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-6092055.html .

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