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CleanFlicks plans to appeal ruling

Edited-movie distributor CleanFlicks plans to appeal Monday the decision of a federal court judge who has ruled that production of "sanitized" movies violates federal copyright law and hurts the Hollywood directors and studios who own the movie rights.

The legal battle over editing movies to remove nudity, harsh language and other elements included 16 prominent directors, including Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford, and entertainment studios such as Disney, Sony, Universal, Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox. They filed suit in 2002 against companies — mostly in Utah — that edit DVD and VHS tapes for content.

"We're disappointed," CleanFlicks CEO 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."

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch issued his decision Thursday, ending a three-year court battle. In his 16-page ruling, Matsch said cutting language, sex and violence causes "irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies" and referred to the businesses as "illegitimate."

Unless an appeal is filed, those named in the suit, Utah-based CleanFlicks, CleanFilms and Family Flix USA and Arizona-based Play It Clean Video, must stop "producing, manufacturing, creating, designing, selling, renting" edited movies.

CleanFilms could not be reached for comment on whether it plans to join the appeal. Family Flix USA shut its doors in 2005 after five years of business. Play It Clean Video no longer operates stores in Utah or Arizona.

The judge also ordered the businesses to turn over their inventory to the movie studios within five days of the ruling.

"Having CleanFlicks shut down and the corporation shut down would destroy CleanFlicks," said Daniel Thompson, owner of the four CleanFlicks shops in Utah County. "I think it's ridiculous that you can't watch a movie without seeing sex, nudity or extreme violence. I don't understand why they're trying to keep that in there."

CleanFlicks and Family Flix USA are movie distributors that buy DVDs, edit them and burn the revamped version onto a blank disc. Those are then sold over the Internet to video stores such as CleanFilms and Play It Clean Video. They also are sold for use by airlines and network television.

Distributors of the purged movies say viewers, especially those with children, enjoy watching movies without questionable nudity and gory violence. But in his ruling, Matsch said that argument is inconsequential to copyright law.

"This court is not free to determine the social value of copyrighted works. What is protected are the creator's rights to protect its creation in the form in which it was created."

Conflict between the squeaky-clean distributors and the film executives began in 1998, when an American Fork theater sliced scenes of a topless Kate Winslet and a back-seat love scene from the Academy Award-winning film "Titanic." Paramount Pictures then pulled the film from the theater. And later that year, Paramount sent Utah County video shop Sunrise Family Video the same message about its chopped version.

Some distributors have left the small but competitive industry since the suit was filed. Sunrise Family Video no longer distributes edited films.

"There's such a market for it," Thompson said, adding he has about 580 members between his Provo and Orem locations alone. "I'm really sad."

Contributing: Associated Press