Steven Soderbergh Fought To Make Re-Editing Films Illegal; Now He's Re-Editing Famous Films
from the the-rules-don't-apply-to-me dept
First off, I should say that I absolutely love the idea of people (especially experts) taking a classic movie and re-editing it. In the past, we’ve written about actor Topher Grace’s apparently legendary re-edit of Episodes I, II and III of Star Wars into a single film. Only a few people have seen it, at private showings held by Grace. I find it unfortunate that we’ll never really be able to see it, because Grace realizes that it would likely get taken down quickly by Disney/Lucasfilm. Indeed, when some amateurs tried to do the same thing, it disappeared quickly.
Thus, it’s interesting and amazing that famed filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has apparently been re-editing classic movies and posting them online. Last year, he re-edited Psycho, Heaven’s Gate and Raiders of the Lost Ark. For whatever reason this hasn’t gotten too much attention until yesterday, when he also released his re-edit of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I think this is wonderful — and a great way to show off some creative editing ideas (and also just how much editing truly makes a movie).
But here’s the weird bit: Steven Soderbergh, as much as I admire him as a filmmaker, is a bit of a copyright maximalist, who has fought for stricter copyright laws, greater punishment and (get this) against the right of anyone but the director to make edits of films.
In 2009, Soderbergh, representing the Director’s Guild of America, testified before Congress that piracy was killing Hollywood and stricter punishment was needed. He was pushing (strongly) for the “three strikes” model that was just showing up in France (only to be abandoned a few years later as a complete and utter failure). In his testimony, Soderbergh pushed the idea of kicking people off the internet entirely for a year if they get three strikes:
Well, when you go into Target and shoplift, there is a security guy from Target that catches you, and then they make a decision, whether or not they are going to take you to the police and prosecute you. At the very least, you are not allowed to go into Target anymore. And I just feel like we are in a similar situation, that there aren?t enough police officers in the world to sit at Target and Wal-Mart, and all the places where crimes are being committed. It wouldn?t be very difficult for us, if we were given, you know, this ability to identify the people who are making it easiest to transmit this copyrighted material, and if we had some sort of, you know, graduated mechanism along the lines of the French model.
First, they are contacted through the Internet. Then they are contacted through the mail. Then the third time they get pulled for a year.
Later in his testimony, he more or less admitted that he didn’t really understand what was going on in France, even though his main message was we should do the same thing here (so it sounds like the DGA just told him to go and “say this”… but, still…). Of course, he also jokes about having decoy files so that when people download them it “wreaks havoc” on downloaders’ computers (but rightly notes that “a very, very bright Dutch teenager… would figure out how to break that encryption.”)
But the even crazier issue is that Soderbergh was the leading name in the lawsuit against CleanFlicks, a company that tried to re-edit movies to make them more palatable to “religious” audiences (i.e., taking out any scenes or dialog CleanFlicks believed to be offensive or blasphemous. The way it worked was you first had to buy the movie yourself (so valid purchase was made), and then you sent it to CleanFlicks which would send you back an edited version. In that lawsuit, CleanFlicks lost. The judge in that case noted directly that he did not believe that fair use applied to re-editing films. The lawsuit is basically CleanFlicks against filmmakers, with Soderbergh at the top:
In that ruling, the judge argued that re-edits were not truly transformative, but more important, rejected the argument that these edits did not impact the market for the video, saying:
The argument has superficial appeal but it ignores the intrinsic value of the right to control the content of the copyrighted work which is the essence of the law of copyright. Whether these films should be edited in a manner that would make them acceptable to more of the public playing them on DVD in a home environment is more than merely a matter of marketing; it is a question of what audience the copyright owner wants to reach.
Frankly, I think the judge got this very, very wrong, but it’s fascinating in this context. Because this appears to be a case where the judge (ruling in favor of Soderbergh) is clearly saying what Soderbergh is doing now is very much copyright infringement.
With the edit of Raiders, Soderbergh noted, “This posting is for educational purposes only.” While we can argue over whether or not that impacts the fair use analysis, the whole thing does seem bizarre.
Once again, we see a case of a copyright maximalist, who argues for stronger penalties for infringement, who then ignores all of that when he wants to make use of others’ content himself. This seems to happen quite frequently.
Again, I think it’s great that Soderbergh is making these edits and posting them for everyone to see (and also discussing some of his thinking). That’s awesome. I think he should be allowed to do so. I just find it strange (and somewhat hypocritical) that this is coming from the very same Steven Soderbergh who has fought for greater punishment for copyright infringers and whose name sits atop a court ruling that directly says re-editing films the way you’d like to see them is infringing.