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Congressman Puts Forth Bill to Permit Movie Sanitizing

16 Jun, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

A Texas congressman fed up with industry disputes over movie-sanitizing technology for the home introduced a bill today that would declare within the limits of copyright law home use of filtering technology that does not alter the movie itself.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced the Family Movie Act and set a hearing on the bill, HR-4686, for 10 a.m. tomorrow before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, which he chairs.

The bill is Smith's response to the dispute raging among the studios, the Directors Guild of America and ClearPlay, which the former parties sued in an effort to keep the technology out of homes. ClearPlay's movie filtering system was only software when the lawsuit was filed in 2002, but has since been incorporated into a DVD player from RCA that sells at Wal-mart for around $70.

The directors object to ClearPlay because it lets home viewers set a series of filters to that skip over some movie content — notably profanity, sex, violence and impious references to the deity — so that viewers see the film differently than the director's artistic vision. But the disc is unaltered after playing with the filter.

“ It is the electronic equivalent of what parents did a generation ago to safeguard their children by muting the sound or fast-forwarding over behavior that is unwelcome in a family living room,” Smith said. “It is unrealistic and impractical to expect parents to monitor their children's video habits 24 hours a day.”

The bill would establish that skipping a movie's audio or video content in a private home does not violate copyright law and that the copyright owner retains exclusive rights.

Specifically, the bill targets “technology to make such audio or video content imperceptible, that does not create a fixed copy of the altered version.” That wording would exclude services that actually mask or edit the content on a tape or DVD.

The bill would also require ClearPlay and others who provide filters to display a disclaimer that the movie viewers will see is different from what the director and/or rightsholder put into the marketplace. Failure to comply would leave the filtering company liable for $1,000 per title in civil damages.

ClearPlay did not respond immediately to requests for a comment.

A spokesman for the DGA said the organization would not testify at Thursday's hearing, although the group is vehemently opposed to the bill.

“Although the authors of this legislation are pursuing the objective of permitting families to edit out age-inappropriate material from films, once enacted, this erosion of copyright protection could be used for any purpose: for example, to change the political content of a film, to revise the historical record, to profit from abridged versions of films, even to make films dirtier,” said a DGA statement. “This kind of activity is precisely why our founding fathers envisioned copyright protection for creative works, and why Congress has created a system that protects those works. Amending the copyright law as proposed would allow companies to destroy someone else's property rights and reputation, all in the name of profit. This is particularly troubling in a digital era, where creative works can so easily be destroyed or distorted by others.”

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