A re-edited film is a motion picture that has been modified from the manner in which it was showcased in its original theatrical release. Reasons for this type of editing may range from the distributor's demands to accommodating different audience groups. Fan-made movie edits are often met with controversy, as they bring up issues of copyright law.
There are three main types of film editing: format, length, and content.
There are two main techniques for re-editing films:
Purchased film content is downloaded onto an editing work station's hard drive and are manually re-edited by third-party editors to remove objectionable content from the video and audio tracks. The re-edited version is then copied onto media (VHS or DVD) and made available for rental or purchase, provided an original version has been purchased in correlation with the re-edited copy. Some manual re-edits are done by fans (see The Phantom Edit) to cut a film to their own – or their peers – specifications.
Although a 2006 lower court ruling prohibits businesses from manually re-editing commercial films, the law still allows for individuals to self-censor and edit their own films for personal use.
Programmed re-editing occurs when software (such as that employed in a DVD player) is used to skip portions of the video and/or audio content on-the-fly, according to pre-programmed instruction sets that are knowingly used by the consumer.
Major American producers and distributors began adding notices such as "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen" in 1993. The voluntary labeling program was established by the MPAA in response to pending legislation in Congress that would have mandated more specific notices such as “This film is not the version originally released. . . . The heirs of the director and the screenwriter object because this alteration changes the narrative and/or characterization.”
Early cases of this practice date back to Germany's occupation by the Nazis, who regularly stole prints of American movies from European countries during their Blitzkrieg raids. They would then either cheaply reanimate the movie (see Hochzeit im Korallenmeer), or would change the names of production staff listed in the credits (as with Max and David Fleischer's cartoon shorts).
As theatrical movies began to air on television, networks successfully sought permission to air shortened versions of movies. The television edits of theatrical films had sections or the entirety of scenes cut out, in order to provide a print length that could fit within a fixed number of multiple half-hour time slots (often four half-hour slots). This also allowed scenes unsuitable for television broadcast (such as those including depictions of sexual activity or graphic violence) to be cut or trimmed. On the other hand, networks would also often add footage deleted from a film's theatrical release to pad out a certain running time (usually three to four hours in length).
In response to consumer demand, families began to re-edit purchased VHS tapes manually by making cuts and splices to the tape. A hotbed for this activity has been Utah with its conservative and entrepreneurial population. When Titanic was released on VHS in the winter of 1998, a video store owner in Utah began offering to re-edit purchased copies of the film for a $5 service fee. The service became very popular, and before long, several video rental businesses purchased VHS tapes and had them re-edited for their rental club/co-op members to watch.
At the end of the 1990s, some small companies began selling copies of movies, without the scenes containing violent and/or indecent content, or foul language, to appeal to family audiences. By 2003, the major American film studios and individual filmmakers reacted against these unauthorized modifications, considering them to be a destruction of the filmmakers' work, and a violation of the controls that an author has over their work. Famed film directors and producers, such as Steven Spielberg, publicly criticized this practice in entertainment industry publications.
When DVD technology emerged, the re-editing industry began offering a disabled DVD accompanied by a re-edited version of the film on a coupled DVD-R for sale or rental. Several companies attempted this business, with some trying to do this through physical brick and mortar stores. The most successful of these proprietors of re-edited film content was Utah-based CleanFlicks, Inc., which utilized a unique deal model and proprietary stores to output the inventory. Clean Films later became the largest and most successful company in the business by employing an online rental model (similar to Netflix) and avoiding employing any physical stores. After a CleanFlicks franchisee in Colorado pre-emptively sued several major film directors out of concern that the guild (citing a notice on the DGA's website that inferred such a lawsuit was pending) were going to sue, the Directors Guild of America and the MPAA filed a countersuit against CleanFlicks and CleanFilms—while including several other distributors of edited DVD prints of theatrical features—arguing that the re-editing of their originally distributed work resulted in a derivation on a fixed media in violation of copyright.
In 2006, Judge Richard P. Matsch of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that CleanFilms, CleanFlicks and other edited film distributors was a copyright violation to distribute re-edited films without the consent from the film studios. The key was the fixed media aspect of the businesses; at all times, for instance, CleanFilms sold edited films with a legitimately purchased original copy. Furthermore, every edited DVD rental unit sold direct-to-customer had a corresponding original copy that was purchased at retail. ClearPlay was not affected by this ruling, as they did not sell fixed media, and editing took place as the unaltered streamed media was altered by the consumer's control of ClearPlay's software.
In an odd twist, despite Judge Matsch's decision and his order that the re-editing companies to destroy all their re-edited inventory, shortly after the studios' victory in the Denver court, the lawyers for the studios negotiated with lawyers for the re-editing companies allowing for the sale of existing inventory. In an unexpected investor outcome given the loss of a major infringement case, one of the companies in the first three days of a "going out of business sale" generated more than a quarter of a million dollars in revenue and eventually sold enough re-edited movies to provide their original investors a return on investment worth five times or better the ROI.
Less controversial than external bodies editing movies were the rise of director's cut editions of movies, which flourished with the advent of DVDs. These restore—and occasionally also shorten or omit (as in the case of Alien)—scenes or footage from movies that had been left out of the theatrical print for varying reasons (including studio interference with the directors creative vision, inability to finish what was intended due to technology, or even the reactions of test audiences).
ClearPlay was sued by the DGA and MPAA, but the case was rendered moot by the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, which clarified that ClearPlay's filtering approach was legal and did not violate copyright law. As a result, ClearPlay has been able to offer its products to consumers in the United States, while others have discontinued distribution of edited home video releases for legal reasons.
Another aspect of re-editing comes with consumer made edits; the practice of fan edits (or fanedits)—which have become more popular as they have spread over the internet—involves consumers loading the filmed content into their computers and using video editing software to produce mostly a version with content changed for their own entertainment.
It is unclear where this industry is headed. An April 2005 poll conducted by ABC News indicated continued demand for the product. Of 1,002 adults from across the United States sampled for the poll, 39% of those polled expressed interest in purchasing re-edited films, while 58% of respondents said that they would not be interested in making such a purchase (with a three-point error margin).
Despite the aforementioned legal rulings, companies continue to sell re-edited movies via the Internet, some of which have been shut down in accordance with the reasoning of the 2006 decision by the Colorado District Court. Even still, online search engine results reveal that companies continue to provide fixed media products, such as Clean Play DVDs. Sometimes, these re-sellers use "going out of business" tactics to move inventory. However, physical "brick and mortar" stores have been shut down, such as Cougar Video in Provo, Utah, which remained open long after the named companies in the aforementioned lawsuit were closed down.
One company, Swank, offers re-edited movies created by the studios themselves, supposedly for showings in correctional facilities and other non-theatrical locations. It is not clear if these versions are the same re-edited versions that studios create for airlines or television showings.