SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal appeals judge has ruled that sanitizing movies on DVD or VHS tape violates federal copyright laws -- ending a three-year legal battle between several Utah companies and 16 Hollywood directors.

U.S District Judge Richard P. Matsch in Denver issued a decision Thursday. Matsch said editing movies to delete objectionable language, sex and violence hurts Hollywood studios and directors who own the movie rights.

"Their (studios and directors) objective... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies," the judge wrote in a 16-page decision. "There is a public interest in providing such protection."

Matsch ordered CleanFlicks of American Fork and others named in the suit, including Play It Clean Video of Ogden and CleanFilms of Provo, to stop "producing, manufacturing, creating" as well as renting edited movies. Those businesses also must turn over their inventory to the movie studios within five days of the ruling.

"We're disappointed," CleanFlicks CEO Ray Lines said. "This is a typical case of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, Hollywood rewrote the ending. We're going to continue to fight."

CleanFlicks is a distributor that produces copies of Hollywood films on DVD by burning edited versions of movies onto blank discs.

The scrubbed films are sold over the Internet and to video stores. Lines says there are between 80 and 90 video stores nationwide -- about half of them in Utah -- that purchase movies from CleanFlicks.

It's unclear how the ruling may effect those stores.

The controversy over editing began in 1998 when the owners of Sunrise Family Video in American Fork began deleting scenes from "Titanic" that showed a naked Kate Winselt. Sunrise was followed by several other companies, most of them in Utah County.

The scrubbing caused an uproar in Hollywood, that resulted in several lawsuits and countersuits.

In a statement issued Friday, Michael Apted, director of "Coal Miner's Daughter" and president of the Director's Guild of America, said movie directors can feel "vindicated" by the ruling.

"Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third-party editor," he said.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.