Now on DVD: The Sanitizer’s Cut, from the WaPo

Ray Lines is one of the most prolific film editors working today.

…the directors whose work he edits haven’t authorized him to touch their films, and often have no idea that he’s cutting dialogue and sometimes whole scenes.

Lines is a film “sanitizer,” one of a new kind of independent and self-proclaimed “family-friendly” editors who delete scenes containing sexuality, violence or crude language – and sometimes more – from the DVD releases of Hollywood movies.

Wow, I had no idea that such a profession even existed. I hardly know where to begin a rant on this. In fact, I think I’m not even going to try. It will just go on too long. I think I’m going to let this one fall into the “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” category.

On the one hand, I’m completely outraged. On the other hand, I don’t think that this is actually illegal, under current copyright law. Their argument is fair use, & while I’d like them to be wrong about that & have their pants sued off of them, I think they may have a legitimate case.

Since the sanitizers buy a new original copy for every DVD they alter, the studios don’t lose a sale or royalties when a film is edited. Typically, the sanitizers buy an original copy of the movie, edit it on a computer, then send an altered copy, plus the disabled original, to the customer. The movie studios actually profit, says CleanFlicks’ Lines, because many customers wouldn’t rent or buy an unsanitized DVD.

Because they don’t make multiple copies of an edited DVD, they say they aren’t engaging in video piracy. To earn a profit, the companies typically mark up the original retail price of the DVD by $6 or $7.

My only question about this is, does fair use allow the creation of derivative works for profit? That to me seems like the only hole in their argument. Someone with more legal expertise than I (which is to say, just about anyone) want to express a professional opinion on this?

And, moving beyond the legal argument, here’s an ethical dilemma for you: suppose you’re an artist. Would you rather people see an edited version of your art, or not see it at all?