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Sony Pictures Is Releasing Clean Versions of Its Movies to Ward Off Would-Be Copycats

Offering sanitized versions of movies like Easy A is Hollywood's latest offensive against alleged copyright infringement.
Emma Stone in Easy A, a film that now has a "clean" version.

Emma Stone in Easy A, a film that now has a "clean" version.

Sony Pictures launched a feature on Tuesday allowing movie viewers to opt for "clean" versions of their films purchased through iTunes, VUDU, and FandangoNOW. The movie studio's new "Clean Version" Initiative will bring airline or broadcast edits of films like 50 First DatesCrouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Easy A to streaming customers, according to a report in Yahoo News.

The new service launched with clean versions of 24 films. In a promotion video, Sony showcased its promise to edit out "adult scenes" and "violence & language" by screening  two versions of the same scene from Grown Ups 2: one, the original, features actor Kevin James calling a group of teenagers "douchebags"; the "clean" version shows him deeming them "little punks."

Sony's move comes at a time when major studios continue to battle third-party family-entertainment companies over unauthorized edits of copyrighted works. While copyright law prohibits third parties from selling edited versions of copyrighted Hollywood films, 2005's Family Movie Act, signed by President George W. Bush, allows companies to sell films edited by software that removes nudity, profanity, and graphic violence.

Ensuing lawsuits between Hollywood and third parties have resulted in losses on both sides. In 2005, a federal judge cleared one of these third-party companies, ClearPlay, of charges of trademark and copyright infringement put forth by both the Directors' Guild of America and 13 individual directors including Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. In 2006, a Colorado judge ruled that a third-party competitor, CleanFlicks, must stop "producing, manufacturing, creating, designing, selling, [and] renting" edited movies; that same year, CleanFlicks went out of business. Meanwhile, Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. remain locked in a legal battle with third-party company VidAngel.

While major Hollywood studios have long opposed companies that edit their films for content, there appears to be a demand for these services. A 2005 poll conducted by ABC News found that about four in 10 Americans said they would rent "sanitized" movies edited for sex and violence, which author Jonathan Cohen called "a huge potential market for the small and controversial enterprise."

Sony's "Clean Version" Initiative appears to be a sign of acceptance that American families want sanitized versions of beloved movies—and a clever attempt to police movies from within in order to prevent outside interference on copyrighted works. Self-censorship, after all, has worked for Hollywood before: In 1922, the major studios formed the Motion Picture Association of America to prevent government censorship, which ushered in our now-standard ratings system.