The Rights of an Artist

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Elsewhere much brouhaha about the Cleanflicks lawsuit and its entirely expected and unexceptionable result.

Several questions and ideas regarding this:

(1) An artist's work is the work of the artist. If the artist should consent to change in order to alter marketing, increase audience share, or meet a distributors requirements, it is the choice of that artist. Some, like Kubrick, refused to do so. They were pariah's in the field; however, I'll take a pariah like Kubrick over the director of a film like Frat Boy Hooter Dreams any day.

(2) Who says children have a right or even should be exposed to the films that are being changed to make them suitable. You don't like the language--don't let your children watch. If you object to the language, there are probably equally unsavory messages elsewhere. Why would you want to show a bowdlerized subversive film? Does cleaning up the language of something unsuitable ultimately make it acceptable?

(3) The changes the artist makes are the choice of the artist. The changes the artist allows to be made, are the choice of the artist. Smart Hollywood studios would simply license this service and make money from it. However, it is not for a group outside of the studio to alter a copyrighted work and not return the profit from sale to the studio that produced it.

(4) I find the question of Church support of such unilateral alteration vexing. I hardly think they would approve of someone going through the NAB or Jerusalem Bible and plucking out anything that might be offensive--says verses contra homosexuality and then presenting the thing as the work of the Author. Nor, do I think, would they support a wholesale alteration of psalm 51 which talks about how I'm Okay, You're Okay before God, using the translation they have prepared of the work.

If the Church is not ready or willing to recognize a certain responsibility to the author or artist of a work, perhaps their thought on this matter needs serious reconsideration. Altering the words of a work amount to "bearing false witness." When the Church has chosen to do so the result has been a travesty (Sistine Chapel being a primary example.)

So, while I can prepare no moral argument that suggests that such alteration cannot be allowed, neither do I approve of it, nor would I support anyone who would choose to profit from the works of others in such a way.

The responsibility of protecting a child from potentially harmful works rests squarely with the parent. I see films before Samuel does in order to determine whether they would be all right for Samuel. I do not want the works changed before hand.

The prime example I can think of is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles which, until recently I had only ever seen in the "prepared for television" version. I watched the DVD and saw a significantly different and more substantial film than the one that had been altered. If the work is a work of art, even bad art, choices have been made in the presentation of the work that should be respected. Unilateral alteration of artistic work is not to be left in the hands of people who did not have the original vision. Or, if done so, those people should take responsibility, even while paying royalties to those whose work they had altered.

After all, with sufficient work, one could produce a version of A Clockwork Orange that could be viewed by everyone. The question becomes, would it be worth viewing by anyone?

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Does cleaning up the language of something unsuitable ultimately make it acceptable?

In some cases, yes. I made a special cut of the (original) star wars movies when my kids were quite young. I wouldn't have let them watch the movies until they were older, otherwise. These were movies I bought and paid for. I don't apologize for it. In other cases I've "bleeped" a few seconds from a film to make it appropriate.

I am sure you don't intend to do it, Steven, but like Kathy you seem to be arguing for the ghettoization of our children. As a parent I have and will exercise a cultural line-item veto. No 'artist' is going to force me into an all or nothing cultural pork-barrell situation, where my children are forced to live in a cultural ghetto. It isn't going to happen, and it shouldn't happen. If artists don't want me to display their "art" the way I choose they shouldn't put things in it that I am likely to censor, or barring that they shouldn't offer it to me for sale at all.


How does the perspective and input of an editor fit into your analysis? Not that I disagree with what you say, but I have trouble fitting a typical editor into terms of exclusively marketing or increasing audience share. Certainly that is part of their job, but exclusively?


I am not sure what you meant by Church support of this since this is obviously not a topic the Church would ever comment on. I don't even think I have seen the private opinion of anybody in the Church's hierarchy on this.

I mostly agree with your position, but I can't see why an artist would allow the edited TV version, but gets mad at Clean Flicks. Am I trumping the rights of an artist if I fast forward through a gratitous sex scene?

Dear Zippy and Brandon,

Thank you both for your comments. I had prepared an extensive reply but as I'm already in danger of abandoning blogging anyway, and as I weary of the topic already better to simply give thanks. I've had my say. It is only fair that I should allow you yours.



Dear Jeff,

Thank you. I think the issue with CleanFlicks really is an issue of the artist's control of the commercial availability of versions of his or her works. If the company wishes to license the work and change it in some ways, then it should be up to the artists whether or not the license is given and how far those alterations may go before the end result is misrepresentation. What one does in privacy is really no one's business--so, no, I don't think you do the artist any damage by flipping through a "gratuitous" sex scene--but you may do the integrity of the work some damage if the scene were not gratuitous--if there were purpose behind it. That is another issue entirely.



Aw, man, Frat Boy Hooter Dreams was a CLASSIC! Pure art.

The solution will be found in a little more technology. Instead of altering the artists' work directly, the clean-up company can sell consumers a computer program. That will enable users to load the DVD into their PC and play the desired portions of it in real time. Let's see the lawyers try to stop that one.

Dear RC,

I don't see why the lawyers would even try. The objection is not the alteration of the film, so far as I understand it, but the alteration of the original work and the redistribution. How one chooses to use and play the original work is entirely a private matter. Once the material is rented or purchased, then it can be played however one desires.

And I think you've come up with a wonderful solution--the creators of the editing device for private use make money from their original and so do the producers of the movie.

If people wish to see the Sistine Chapel with blue sashes and it can be done without creating a new or editing FOR ALL the old, then, I think I would see that as a happy compromise. Neither work is compromised as a work (although the version one sees of it is a compromise and may be lesser art--that's a different judgment) and all parties are assured of the integrity of their work.

I think it's perfect. Wouldn't use it for a variety of reasons, but it satisfies those who have no real concern for authorial or artistic intent or integrity.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 18, 2006 2:02 PM.

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