Carol Biesinger could hardly keep up with the lines of eager customers - and phone calls from across the country - at her small Utah County video store.
"When it rains it pours," said a harried Biesinger in a stolen moment from the growing din at Sunrise Family Video on Wednesday afternoon. "We have been massively swamped. We've had calls from all over the country."Yet as word spread about the American Fork shop's offer to edit two scenes from the video version of "Titanic" for $5, Biesinger and her husband, Don, braced for Hollywood's backlash.
Executives at the home-video division of Paramount Pictures, which distributed 20 million copies nationwide for Tuesday's release this week, issued a terse statement at about 2 p.m. Wednesday denouncing Sunrise Video's editing practice.
"Paramount Pictures' position is that all unauthorized alterations of its films violates its rights under copyright, trademark and other laws," said Dorrit Ragosine, studio spokeswoman.
"We will take all legal and appropriate action to protect our interests."
Ragosine also said Sunrise Video was violating the rights of 20th Century Fox, which co-financed the film, as well as those of director James Cameron's Light-storm production company.
Ragosine declined to elaborate and would not say if an injunction to halt the editing is being prepared. A 1976 copyright statute allows federal courts to issue temporary and final injunctions against suspected copyright infringers anywhere in the United States.
Carol Biesinger said she has not been contacted by studio representatives, however.
"We haven't heard from them. I have suspicions and have heard rumors, but at this point it is business as usual," she said. "If they can prove we are doing something wrong, then we will quit. We're not out to beat the law. We honestly don't think we are doing anything wrong."
Many law experts who have weighed in on the copyright controversy over airwaves and in such national publications as USA TODAY agree.
Rita Reusch, a professor at the University of Utah who teaches classes in copyright law, said the store is "hanging its hat" on the premise that people may do what they wish with personal property.
"It's a very, very, very gray area," Reusch said. "I don't know if Paramount would have a legitimate argument to make."
Studio attorneys could claim that Sunrise Video is acting as an "enabler" for people to make a derivative work from a original piece of art, which, if pressed, may be an infringement of copyrights, she said.
"The store is in the business of making a derivative," she said. "But to the extent you can do that is a very gray area."
About 250 copies of the all-time most popular movie, brought in by people for editing, were neatly stacked on shelves in the basement shop at 135 N. 100 East. With a few snips and the application of some adhesive, a brief nude pose and a steamy scene of the film's fetching stars will be gone from the three-hour plus Oscar winner.
Biesinger, who appears both flustered and giddy about the store's sudden notoriety, said customers can expect to wait a week for the editing work to be done on their videotapes.
Sunrise Video specializes in movies with a "family friendly" bent. Even those who want profanity smothered out of otherwise benign shows can rent a machine from the Biesingers to mute the television set when an objectionable word or phrase is uttered by actors.
Not a single R-rated movie can be spotted in Biesinger's store in American Fork, a growing 25,000-resident burg that made national headlines last month when a local theater snipped the same controversial scenes from "Titanic," a film that made Leonardo DiCaprio the favored poster boy of teenage girls worldwide.
Towne Cinemas was nearly black-listed by studios for cutting the print. Contracts with distributors require theaters to show movies as approved by producers and directors.
"This is a good week," Biesinger said with a sigh. "It's been great. We don't want our customers to wait a week to see their videos, so we're trying to get them out as fast as we can. If we can get them out in less than a week, then it'll be great."