Judge drops two companies from copyright lawsuit
By John Accola, Rocky Mountain News
August 19, 2005
Two companies that manufacture technologies to filter out sex, profanity and violence from DVD movies were dismissed from a long-running lawsuit pitting them against Hollywood’s biggest film moguls.
Denver U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled Wednesday that copyright infringement claims against ClearPlay and Family Shield Technologies are moot because of a new law signed by President Bush in April.
The Family Movie Act, originally sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, exempts so-called video filtering from trademark and copyright suits as long as the “objectionable” content in movies is removed without altering the film itself.
Utah-based ClearPlay’s censoring technology, for example, uses a compact disc that programs DVD players to skip over scenes or language to avoid potentially offensive material.
Eight motion picture studios, the Directors Guild of America and 16 individual directors – including Robert Redford and Steven Spielberg – sued the companies, maintaining that the sanitizing technology was a threat to artistic freedom and a violation of copyright laws.
“What these companies do is legal. Everyone recognizes it’s not worth fighting that anymore,” said Scott Mikulecky, a Colorado Springs copyright attorney at Sherman & Howard.
The case stems from an August 2002 lawsuit brought by Mikulecky’s client, Robert Huntsman, who at the time owned several CleanFlicks video store franchises in Colorado and Idaho.
Huntsman filed suit against the directors guild, seeking a court judgment that CleanFlicks’ practice of editing videos to make them “family friendly” was legal.
The directors guild then countersued, seeking an injunction against a dozen companies that included both the editing and filtering companies.
Matsch’s ruling does not affect the editing company litigants, which include Utah businessman Ray Lines’ CleanFlicks video store chain, the parent company that provides customers with the original DVD along with the edited copy.
“We’re still in it,” Lines said. “We’re going to fight the fight and do what we can so the rest of America can understand what we’re doing.
“Most people don’t have the editing technology on their home computer or DVD player to alter these movies. We feel they should have the right to take it to somebody like us who does.”
New York attorney Jonathan Zavin, representing the studios, said his clients are hopeful that Matsch will rule in their favor in a summary judgment this year.
Louisville copyright attorney Thomas Howard said Family Shield, founded in Greeley by two computer engineering graduates of Brigham Young University, is no longer selling its patent-pending programming censor.
“They are a very small company, and they couldn’t make it through a lengthy lawsuit,” Howard said.
“It’s expensive to go up against some of the biggest names in the business.”
accolaj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2666