Suit targets Spielberg, Scorsese, other directors -- The provider of a service that allows video viewers to skip offensive content files a preemptive suit against top filmmakers who object to unauthorized edits of their movies

The battle for cleaner movies is turning very messy. The Directors Guild of America has expressed concern over a growing number of companies that provide edited or editable home videos for customers who want to snip out objectionable content. Some DGA members even threatened legal action over the unauthorized edits, according to a posting on the DGA website that appeared last week. Now, according to published reports, one of the targeted companies, Clean Flicks, has filed a preemptive suit against Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and 14 other top Hollywood directors, seeking to uphold the constitutionality of the edited movies on free speech grounds.

Clean Flicks is a Utah-based chain of 70 stores that offers home viewers versions of Hollywood movies with sex scenes and profanity edited out; it’s also marketing a remote control that will allow viewers to do their own editing by skipping tagged scenes or muting tagged dialogue. The Colorado branch of the company filed the suit yesterday in federal court in Denver after reading on the DGA website that such directors as Spielberg, Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman, Curtis Hanson, Norman Jewison, John Landis, and Robert Redford were considering an injunction against Clean Flicks and other companies marketing similar services. Another such company, Trilogy Studios, markets software called Movie Mask that can filter a DVD while you’re watching it. Video II and Family Shield Technologies also offer editing services.

”What these companies are doing is taking the hard work and creativity of filmmakers and changing them to suit their own whims and values — and all for profit,” DGA president Martha Coolidge told Reuters yesterday. ”To make things worse, these altered films are still identified with their creators and are being marketed as such.”

Clean Flicks argues that its edits constitute ”fair use” according to copyright law, and are therefore protected by the First Amendment. The DGA, however, seems no more likely to approve of the for-profit sale or rental of such unauthorized edits than George Lucas is to allow the makers of ”Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Edit” (the homemade version that cuts out Jar Jar Binks) to sell their cut of his film. ”Appallingly, the plaintiffs rely on the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment as an excuse to alter original works and pass them along for profit to the public,” the DGA said in a statement.

The Clean Flicks suit seems to have caught the DGA by surprise. ”We want to get our suit into court before the DGA does,” Clean Flicks spokesman Pete Webb told Variety. The DGA’s notice that it was mulling its own lawsuit, which has since been taken down, was premature and should not have been posted on the Web, spokesman Andrew Levy told AP. ”The lawsuit was an option we were considering, but we never committed to filing one.”