A Question of Ethics. Steven Soderbergh is the Academy-Award-winning director of Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and many other films. CleanFlicks, LLC, filed a suit in a federal district court against Soderbergh, fifteen other directors, and the Directors Guild of America. The plaintiff asked the court to rule that it had the right to sell DVDs of the defendants’ films altered without the defendants’ consent to delete scenes of “sex, nudity, profanity and gory violence.” CleanFlicks sold or rented the edited DVDs under the slogan “It’s About Choice” to consumers, sometimes indirectly through retailers. It would not sell to retailers that made unauthorized copies of the edited films. The defendants, with DreamWorks LLC and seven other movie studios that own the copyrights to the films, filed a counterclaim against CleanFlicks and others engaged in the same business, alleging copyright infringement. Those filing the counterclaim asked the court to enjoin (prevent) CleanFlicks and the others from making and marketing altered versions of the films. [Clean Flicks of Colorado, LLC v. Soderbergh, 433 F.Supp.2d 1236 (D.Colo. 2006)]
1 Movie studios often edit their films to conform to content and other standards and sell the edited versions to network television and other commercial buyers. In this case, however, the studios objected when Clean Flicks edited the films and sold the altered versions directly to consumers. Similarly, Clean Flicks made unauthorized copies of the studios’ DVDs to edit the films, but objected to others’ making unauthorized copies of the altered versions. Is there anything unethical about these apparently contradictory positions? Why or why not?
2 Clean Flicks and its competitors asserted in part that they were making “fair use” of the studios’ copyrighted works. They argued that by their actions “they are criticizing the objectionable content commonly found in current movies and that they are providing more socially acceptable alternatives to enable families to view the films together, without exposing children to the presumed harmful effects emanating from the objectionable content.” If you were the judge, how would you view this argument? Is a court the appropriate forum for making determinations of public or social policy? Explain.