A software-based company in San Francisco has released a new program that can censor DVDs on the fly. It uses an online movie database of existing "safe cuts," or you can upload your own. Their player then uses these cuts to generate a "cutlist," which plays the movie according to that list in real-time, effectively censoring it. This process does not create or leave behind a hard copy of the altered film, it edits everything in the background, splicing together a new version of the film as you watch it, leaving you with the original movie intact after viewing.

This differs from an earlier lawsuit against a company called CleanFlicks which was upheld in court because it was decided that they caused "irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies," by actually taking your DVD, and creating a "clean" copy of it with all the sex and profanity edited out. Basically, they sent you a duplicate that they created, with none of the bad stuff in it, meaning they physically alter the original movie content on the actual media.

Another company, ClearPlay, provides a similar service through a standalone DVD player that has filters built in to screen out portions of the movie the viewer finds objectionable. Since they don't change the movie itself, they have been safe from lawsuits, so far. How this new software is legal remains to be seen, and there are two camps on the whole issue. One camp says that once you purchase the movie, whatever you do with it is your own business, which would include having it sliced up and sent back to you sanitized. The other camp says that you cannot cause irreparable injury to the artistic expression. That's where the real problem lies: Who decides if the artistic expression has been harmed? The director? A judge? A jury?

Certain films would no doubt be entirely different if scenes were edited out. Take A Clockwork Orange for example. The entire film is about how society deals, rather poorly, with trying to curtail violence and pornography. A cutlisted (or scrubbed clean) version of this movie would be a joke, at best.

However, a movie like Swordfish probably wouldn't really be harmed artistically if Halle Berry's topless scene were edited out. Or would it? I can't say, and possibly no one can except the director of the movie. Or maybe it's the audience who has that power. I can say for sure that the artistic expression probably would have been improved if John Travolta's goofy haircut had been edited out. I had a roommate who used to jump up and fast-forward through sex scenes and scenes of gratuitous violence in movies like Boyz n the Hood. My question always was, why even own this movie if it has something you find objectionable in it?

With the proliferation of movies available as digital downloads, this will become a larger issue, and one to watch ... censored or uncensored. What do you think?