SALT LAKE CITY – Sanitizing movies on DVD or VHS tape violates federal copyright laws, and several companies that scrub films must turn over their inventory to Hollywood studios, an appeals judge ruled.
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."
Matsch ordered the companies named in the suit, including CleanFlicks, Play It Clean Video and CleanFilms, to stop "producing, manufacturing, creating" and renting edited movies. The businesses also must turn over their inventory to the movie studios within five days of the ruling.
"We're disappointed," CleanFlicks chief executive Ray Lines said. "This is a typical case of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, Hollywood rewrote the ending. We're going to continue to fight."
CleanFlicks produces and distributes sanitized copies of Hollywood films on DVD by burning edited versions of movies onto blank discs. The scrubbed films are sold over the Internet and to video stores.
As many as 90 video stores nationwide -- about half of them in Utah -- purchase movies from CleanFlicks, Lines said. It's unclear how the ruling may effect those stores.
The controversy began in 1998 when the owners of Sunrise Family Video began deleting scenes from "Titanic" that showed a naked Kate Winselt.
The scrubbing caused an uproar in Hollywood, resulting in several lawsuits and countersuits.
Directors can feel vindicated by the ruling, said Michael Apted, president of the Director's Guild of America.
"Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third-party editor," he said.