July 10, 2006

"CleanFlicks", copyright infringement, and DMCA

The "CleanFlicks" case concerning bowlderization versus copyright is prompting much tech/law discussion, see e.g. Joe Gratz and Ed Felten

Brief Summary:

Side 1: Companies, e.g. "CleanFlicks", which take existing movies and make version with offense parts cut out.
Side 2: Movie studios, etc.
Legal Issue: Is a bowlderization service a violation of copyright, even if the company buys an unaltered copy first, and is doing it For The Childen?

Court's answer, so far: Yes (note this is different from the "Family Movie Act", which addressed making on-the-fly alterations, not permanent copies).

In terms of having something original to add to the commentary pile, I'd just like disagree with my pundit brethren regarding the speculation that the reason the movie studios didn't bring a DMCA claim against the bowlderizers was that the studios did not want to inflame social conservatives against the DMCA. That doesn't make sense, as social conservatives have more than enough to be outraged in the lawsuit itself (and now, the unfavorable decision). Such fine distinctions as the exact nature of the legal claims are very much inside baseball, details. No, I believe the reason a DMCA claim was not made has much more to do with not presenting a court with the fabled sympathetic DMCA circumvention defendant, one charged with circumvention but making fair use in a socially approved cause (and you can't get more sympathetic than For The Children, that's better than even prestigious academic researchers!)

Think it through: If the studios win on the copyright claim, there's no need for a DMCA claim. If the studios lose on the copyright claim, they could then bring a DMCA claim. So they have nothing to gain from starting with a DMCA claim, and risk enormous loss in having a court possibly scale back the extent of the DMCA (especially given the temptation to be swayed by the perceived virtues of the defendant). Thus, it's strategically obvious what to do based simply on risk/reward ratio.

Anyway, politics makes strange bedfellows, err, parlorguests.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca , legal | on July 10, 2006 03:11 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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