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Directors Guild Backs Out of Movie-Editing Technology Hearing

19 May, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) backed out of a congressional committee hearing on movie-editing technology at the 11th hour, contending the hearing was initially announced as a forum on the artistic and copyright issues of movie editing, but had become a referendum on ClearPlay's sanitizing DVD players.

“Based on the understanding that the focus of the hearing would be broad policy issues relating to copyright protection, the artistic rights of directors and the many companies looking to provide unauthorized edited versions of copyrighted films, the Guild initially agreed to have a representative testify. Moreover, we were advised that among the other witnesses would be the copyright holders or representatives of the studios. After discussions this week with members of the committee and subcommittee staff, however, it became apparent that the hearing will concentrate, in large measure at least, on the current status of settlement discussions between one company, eight film studios and the Directors Guild. Additionally, we learned that the studios would not be testifying and that the committee had declined the offer of the MPAA to testify on the studios' behalf. These changes dramatically altered the hearing in which we were asked to participate,” said a DGA statement.

The DGA will submit written comments for the record on the hearing before the House copyright committee, scheduled for Thursday, a spokesman said. The studios reportedly backed away from the hearing, fearing they might be targets of congressional wrath in a post-Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” climate.

RCA began selling one model of DVD player enabled with ClearPlay, a technology that skips over content the user specifies as offensive, when playing DVDs. The process skips over content, but does not alter the disc being played. The players are available at Wal-Mart and are scheduled to be offered at Kmart soon.

The DGA and several of its prominent members and the major studios sued ClearPlay and other similar services in 2002, alleging the edits infringe copyrights. The sides are in settlement talks.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. has threatened to write legislation that would settle the dispute if the companies can't reach an agreement on their own.

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