Hollywood Stifles Creativity Again

The “creative” film industry stretches its cold, dead hand over some more derivative works. Various companies who edited DVDs to remove content their customers didn’t like – and then swapped the original DVD for a burn of the edited version – have been told that it’s illegal to do so. And it probably is – they are burning copies of copyrighted content.

That’s OK, though – they can just write their own DVD player which implements a simple Edit Decision List file format. The customer plays the original DVD, and the software obeys the EDL file and seamlessly removes or reorders video and audio to provide a family-friendly experience. No copyright infringement there.

But hang on, no they can’t, because you can only write software to play a DVD if Hollywood says so, as it controls the issuing of CSS decryption keys – and they are hardly going to allow companies they are suing to start shipping such a product which facilitates an action they don’t like.

Fortunately, we have free software, which plays DVDs whether Hollywood likes it or not. How hard would it be to implement a simple EDL format for Totem? So the customer base for these companies would be reduced to only those people running Linux, but that’s a temporary problem…

Update: Ooh, wow, it sort of exists – at least, as proprietary hardware. Presumably these people have a DVD key licence? Then either Hollywood talking about “artistic integrity” is hypocrisy, or ClearPlay are next in the firing line…

15 thoughts on “Hollywood Stifles Creativity Again

  1. I can see both sides of the coin here. The early Beatles albums were released with different American versions that the band didn’t like, their later contract prohibited this from happening again. That’s their right to how they want their work to appear.
    On the other hand, I would say it’s my right to take a Beatles album and make a playlist skipping out songs I don’t like. The question really is what category would you put this stuff in. I guess, taking out the middle man which is really the issue here, this is more of the latter, putting the customer in control of how they want to enjoy media.

  2. Who cares about vulgarity anyway? Kids are going to pick it up one way or the other.

  3. I know folks who deliberately end up waiting for movies to be shown on commercial TV so that they can see an edited version. Personally, I would love it if edited versions (one way or another) would be available. I am particularly intrugued by the open source route. The key is harnessing the manpower of the folks who are willing and able to work on it.

    As for sam’s comment, this is about a lot of scenes that had they been just left out or cut a little short, we’d still have a great story and the kids wouldn’t have to see so much sex and graphic violence. Because let’s be really honest, things often seem to be just thrown into movies for no particular reason other than as eye candy (of the less than ideal variety… especially for kids). And even not dealing with the kids issue. I personally don’t want to listen to or watch certain things despite the fact that I may enjoy the overall story… sort of the whole garbage in… garbage out deal.

    Great post!

  4. Mplayer seems to have support for recording and playing back using EDL: http://www1.mplayerhq.hu/DOCS/HTML/en/edl.html

    Never could understand the point of Totem, its never really worked for me… and you can run Mplayer on win32 too :-)

    But it would be nice to have good support for this across the different open source players – VLC especially as its nicely cross platform.

    The interesting part of this would be constructing an open equivalent to ClearPlay for sharing the EDLs and automatically downloading them etc

  5. http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=190727&cid=15689451

    It would be illegal even if you were to buy a book for each copy you sold. It may seem silly to many, but that’s how copyright works. You would be creating and distributing a derivitive work, and you need the copyright holder’s permission to do that, no matter what. Just because you bought their stuff doesn’t give you that right.

    In the end, it’s important that it remains that way for OSS, becuase that’s what gives the GPL legal force. If you were allowed to sell s distributed work without permission, provided you legally obtained and destroyed a copy for each work you distributed, GPL software would lack any enforcement ability. People could simply get your software for free legally, and then distribute modified versions. They might have to go through the cermonial process of downloading a copy for each one they sold and deleting it, but it would all be legal.

    However, they don’t have that right. Even though you give your work away for free, they still ahve to respect your copyright. Via the GPL you give them the right to distribute derivitve works, but only if they agree to some conditions (like opening their code). That they got the copy legally or paid you isn’t relivant, copyright mandidates they can’t distribute derivitives without permission, and your price on that permission is spelled out in the GPL.

  6. All that’s going to change is that these companies will pay licences to Hollywood for the right to keep doing it. After all, if films had to be shown as produced TBS would never be able to show Jerry Maguire again, and again, and again… I hate watching JM on TBS because of what they did to the “no heart? no heart? I’m all heart…” scene.

    I think it’s weird that in North America the attitude seems to be “let’s show adult-intended films at 4pm and cut them to ribbons” as opposed to the one in the British Isles which is “let’s show them at 9-10pm largely uncut”.

    Gerv – if the case was in relation to religious rock songs or religious movies that had been recut to a more raunchy mix would you have been quite as sympathetic?

  7. Presumably if I were doing the same thing with books, I could use a permanent marker to obscure the objectionable material. It seems ridiculous to expect that a lawsuit against a company doing that could succeed.

    I could see an argument for their being derivative works if instead of merely eliding content, the companies had explicitly changed it. However, I don’t think removing material is, in the general case (I can imagine situations where removing content completely changes the meaning of a book or video), a derivative work in the spirit of the law. (I won’t even bother touching the “letter” of the law here since I’m entirely unfamiliar with it.)

    (By the way, Gerv, you want “its” instead of “it’s” in that first sentence. It’s a pet peeve of mine… :-) )

  8. Gerv – if the case was in relation to religious rock songs or religious movies that had been recut to a more raunchy mix would you have been quite as sympathetic?

    For s/religious/Christian, good question. Thinking about it, I’d say there’s a difference between removing, or choosing not to see, material, and adding new material.

    Hmm – does that viewpoint mean that it would be OK to have an EDL for a film which removed scenes, but not one which revoiced the occasional swearword to a “Drat”?

    Jeff: Thanks – fixed.

  9. Having children I can see the advantage of this technology. If I pay for the DVD why would I not have the right to edit the content for my viewing pleasure?

    Put another way. How come network television is allowed to do just that (edit content) and I am not. They remove scenes and words from movies all the time because they have to follow what the TV sensors will allow or not allow.

    Why would I not be given the same right when I pay for a movie myself? I think I have a much better idea of what’s appropriate for my family as compared to network television executives (and or TV sensors).

    I hope this thing takes off.

  10. Thinking about it, I’d say there’s a difference between removing, or choosing not to see, material, and adding new material

    So if I delete scenes in such a way that the original meaning of the work is totally changed (e.g. deleting scenes that provide redemption for one of the characters), that’s fine, but adding material to the same effect is verboten?

    If we are to assign any protection to the original creators of works with regard to how their work is distributed, it is clear that this should apply to deletion just as much as adding material since either changes the sense of the original. Furthermore, if we believe that trademarks are a valuable system for protecting the reputation of content creators then it is clear that systems such as the ClearPlay one for autoskipping content prevent the content creators from protecting their trademark and so have a reasonable chance of being ruled illegal (note that these systems are different from e.g. the viewer deciding to skip forward, since this must be a conscious decision to alter part particular part of the content. With the automatic system the viewer presumably has no idea what is being lost and so the work they are seeing differs in an unknown way from the work that the trademark holders were happy to put their mark to).

  11. OT

    I was looking through your archives just now, and came across an interesting post from back in March 2005: http://blog.gerv.net/2005/03/ui_dilemma.html

    For innocent bystanders, it was a request by you for suggestions on a particuarly nasty UI problem – you had a button that couldn’t do it’s job, couldn’t be disabled, and the job could be done by clicking the same button in another window. You asked for suggestions on how to deal with this.

    At the time, you said you couldn’t explain the concrete details (due to the application being un-released, I assume). I just wondered if it would be possible for you to explain them now, more than a year later. It’s still a facinatingly horrible dilemma, and knowing the details would still be quite interesting, if you are now more free to divulge them.

  12. jgraham: I think you mean “copyright”, not “trademarks”. Trademarks are something different entirely.

    Why is ClearPlay different from the viewer deciding to skip forward? The viewer has decided to skip; they have just decided to do so instantaneously instead of at high speed, they have decided to do so automatically instead of pressing a button, and they made the decision to do so at some point before starting watching the film instead of in the middle. Which of these differences makes ClearPlay different enough to be different, as it were?

    You also can’t say “because someone else makes the decision”, because if I am watching a movie with you in my house, and I hold the remote control, then I make the decision about what we see and what we don’t – and no-one considers that a problem.

  13. No, where I said trademarks I meant trademarks. The issue of trademarks is in additions to the issue of copyright – by producing a system that automatically edits a work in a way that is out of the control of the original content creators, you are applying their trademarks to a work that they have not authorised. At least, I can see some justifcation for that argument although I don’t know if it’s really sound. To make an analogy of Firefox, the question of whether these systems constitute Trademark infringement is whether they are more akin to taking an official mozilla.org build, adding some random extensions and distributing it using the official branding, so giving the impression that this is a complete product that has been endorsed by mozilla.org, or to me personally downloading the official mozilla.org build and adding some extensions, presumably in the knowledge that any problems that result should not be blamed on mozilla.org*.

    Why is ClearPlay different from the viewer deciding to skip forward?

    Because they haven’t decided where to skip. In principle they have no way of telling what is the original work and what is the edit. For comparison, imagine I was selling media player that had the effect of cutting together the speeches of the Archbishop of Cantebury in such a way that it was impossible to distinguish from a real speech and so that the content endorsed strongly non-Christian values. Would you consider that acceptable? What if the player didn’t advertise the exact changes it made?

    * Although in practise people often complain that “Firefox leaks memory” when in fact they have 100 extensions 10 of which are leaking memory…

  14. Oh, I see what you mean about trademarks. Well, these companies could skip all the studio logos and credits off – but I suspect the studios would have even more to say about that than the current scheme! I don’t think it’s that they care about. They have their logos on versions cut for network TV, after all.

    Because they haven’t decided where to skip.

    Neither have you, if we are watching a movie together and you give me the remote control. Is one not allowed to delegate the task of fast forwarding through the boring/repetitive/whatever bits?

    As for the Archbishop of Canterbury, many of his speeches already espouse non-Christian values, so your device wouldn’t have to work all that hard.

    If you sold me that media player telling me that it would play me genuine, uncut AoC speeches (and I was foolish enough to want to listen), that would be a misrepresentation. But that’s not the issue here. People using these services or ClearPlay know exactly what they are getting – and they have access to the original movie if they want to judge whether the decisions being taken on their behalf are good ones.

  15. People using these services or ClearPlay know exactly what they are getting – and they have access to the original movie if they want to judge whether the decisions being taken on their behalf are good ones.

    So, thinking about it a little, I hope that these services are indeed found to be legal. However I can see the other side of the coin i.e. why content producers would be annoyed at people selling devices to change the meaning of their content.