Huntsman v. Soderbergh

In this case movie directors and studios sought to invade your living room and control how you watch lawfully obtained DVDs. Two sets of entities asked a court to declare legal their methods of helping consumers avoid watching scenes involving sex violence or other material they find disturbing. The movie studios then sued them for copyright infringement and the directors sued for trademark infringement.

One set of defendants sold DVD players and related technologies that knew when to and automatically would hit the skip or mute button during certain portions of a movie. In effect the studios strangely claimed that you infringe copyright when skipping pages in a book closing your eyes during a movie or muting part of a song. Providing instructions—whether in spoken language or computer code—to perform these actions would also be infringing.

files/filenode/Huntsman_v_Soderbergh/20030618_eff_amicus.pdf">In an amicus briefEFF argued that copyright holders had no right to control consumers' private viewings. By enacting the Family Entertaintment and Copyright Act in 2005 Congress made creation and use of this technology clearly legal and this part of the case was set aside.

The other set of defendants lawfully purchased DVDs created a copy without sexual or violent content and then would sell or rent out that copy. For every copy distributed the companies lawfully bought a DVD. Editing a DVD for your own private viewing is pretty clearly fair use but that wasn't at issue in this case. Instead the case dealt with whether the companies could lawfully make the edits on your behalf. Unfortunately on July 6 2006 a federal district court ruled that these companies were infringing.

EFF filed an amicus brief with respect to these companies but offered no opinion on whether the final DVD was infringing. Rather the brief argued that as long as making clean movies is not itself an infringing activity the practice of making intermediate copies should be considered non-infringing as well. It's an important point because intermediate copies are crucial to the process of creating new copyrighted works. The movie studios subsequently backed off and withdrew their "intermediate copying" argument in front of the judge.

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