Once upon a time, years ago, there was someone I knew who was very dissatisfied with sex with Hollywood films. He thought there was way too little, and what was there was hardly hardcore.
So what he would do with a Hollywood movie he found quite lacking in that department was to find a porn flick not at all lacking in that department with participants who resembled the Hollywood stars. With some video editing, he would then splice and dice the sex supplement onto the Hollywood movie.
He would then show the results to friends unaware of his hobby, and apparently rather enjoyed the “I didn’t know THAT was in the movie” reaction to his enhancements.
Back in the pre-PC/Internet era, this was difficult and cumbersome to do. In the post PC/Internet era, it is less so.
And someday sooner or later, this will represents a real problem.
Automated Fast Forward
For many Hollywood movies nowadays, there seems to be a recommended minutely allowance of profanity and violence. It seems like there’s a rule that someone has to curse every five seconds and kill someone every five minutes.
Many people don’t like that. They want to see the movie without all that and without having to have world-class athletic skills on the remote’s fast-forward button.
A number of firms have felt this need, and have come up with products that automatically do just that to the movie.
Two approaches are being taken to do this.
Physical Editing: Places like CleanFlicks physically remove all bits they find naughty, and rent/resell the edited versions of the movies.
Software For a yearly fee, places like ClearPlay provide you with software and filters made for each movie that edit movies on-the-fly.
Hollywood likes neither of these approaches, and is going to court to try to stop this.
Why They Object
There’s two reasons being given for Hollywood objecting to this, the BS reason, and the real reason.
The BS reason is summarized by Martha Coolidge, president of the Directors Guild of America:
“Artistically, we’re offended by an arbitrary outsider deciding how you should see a film.”
The real reason is stated by one of the movie studio’s attorneys:
“What the studios are saying is someone can’t alter their movies, create alternative versions and sell them as a commercial enterprise.”
Artists Feeling Their Oats
The first reason boils down to content creators saying, “We are artists, and you have no right to use our art the way you see fit; you have to see our art the way we see fit.
To some degree, I can see that point, but then I look at what they’re calling “art.” I am sorry, but prolific profanity, sex and violence as used in the typical Hollywood movie is not art
It’s not that any of these can’t be, but it’s hard to call Tony Soprano’s 147th use of the all-purpose adjective in a show a very important artistic statement. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty swift. It doesn’t take me long to figure out Tony Soprano curses a lot, and new artistic dimensions sure don’t open up in my head with every f—in this and f—in that.
Many of you may think that the Sopranos is a fine show, but I doubt any one of you would say that’s just because of incredibly artistic cursing. If you bleeped out all the cursing, it’s not like you couldn’t follow the plot and the show would lose all or even much meaning.
If cursing is so essential to artistry, what about Jerry Springer? Have you ever felt culturally deprived and clueless because you missed out on all those bleeped words?
This is not at all to say that profanities should be bleeped out for everyone, just to say that a person doesn’t have to hear them or lose all, much or even any of the “artistic merit” of the show.
Pretty much the same applies to sex and violence. I suppose you can artistically choreograph such things, but you can accuse precious few movies of that.
The reality is Hollywood is in the entertainment business, not the art business. There are exceptions, but the typical Hollywood movie is closer to professional wrestling than the philharmonic. They’re a bunch of ‘hos cranking out the kind of profitable entertainment people want to see. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly exalted work. This is not in the league of taking out Beethoven’s notes in a symphony.
So please get off your artistic high horse when it’s obvious you’re riding a pig at the trough.
The real argument Hollywood makes is that people shouldn’t be allowed to make money by tinkering with their work. In legalistic copyright terms, it’s called “derivative” work.
What this means is that if the creators do all the figurative heavy lifting in creating a product, others shouldn’t be able to piggyback off that work. In short, making a cartoon about a mouse is OK, but making one from Mickey Mouse without Diseny’s permission (and paying Disney money) isn’t, simply because using Mickey piggybacks on all the work and money Disney spent establishing Mickey.
Nor is paying money necessarily enough. If you want to star Mickey in, say, a prison gangrape, Disney won’t take your money no matter how much you offer. Some would argue that such a right of veto extends even beyond the copyright period.
So when you hear about rights over “derivative” products being discussed, what’s really being talked about is, “At what point can somebody besides Disney make Mickey bend over?” Tomorrow? When the copyright expires? Never?
If you think I’m getting wild and crazy, then so are the people in Hollywood. Hollywood says, with some justification, that if there is a right to take things out, there’s also a right to put things in. As the president of the MPAA, Jack Valenti, put it:
“The altering of a film by anyone not involved in the creation of that film is to enter a dangerous area. There are those who would revise a film for what they claim to be benign reasons. But there are others who would alter for pornographic or obscene reasons.”
Hmmmm. Just like my acquaintance at the beginning of this piece. Just like Mickey Does Marion.
Marion Federal Peneteniary is a U.S. maximum security prison.
Think about that person for a moment. Let’s presume he’s still doing the same thing in the PC and Internet-enabled world. Do you think he has the right to buy a DVD or otherwise pay Hollywood, put in his little addition, and then sell it? What if instead he sold software for DVD changers that did the electronic splicing on-the-fly?
Changing The View Versus Changing The Viewed
I think we need to make a distinction between what ClearPlay does and what CleanFlicks does.
ClearPlay does not change the product. It merely changes the way the product gets viewed the same way you could, it just does the job better than you possibly could. It is also a clearly identifiable and separable service; it’s an add-on to viewing, not a substitute for the original.
CleanFlicks, on the other hand, actually changes the product, not just how it gets viewed. This makes it a different and separate product from the original, and it’s sold as a commercial competitor to the original. It’s not an add-on to the original; it’s a substitute for the original.
It seems to me a good dividing line between OK and not OK is between what ClearView does and what ClearFlicks does. The first should be OK, the second shouldn’t. The first preserves users rights; the second preserves owners’ reasonable rights.
It is a first alert to a question that becomes more and more pressing as video editing becomes easier and easier. It’s like the video version of rap sampling.
Just how do you govern that kind of tinkering and recycling of content? What should be the rules?