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Family Entertainment and Copyright Act Passed by Congress

19 Apr, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 is headed for President George W. Bush for signature following its passage today on a voice vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate had passed the bill in February, and the House Judiciary Committee cleared the bill for a vote last month.

The omnibus bill makes it a federal offense to record a movie in a theater using a video camera, outlines the penalties for illegally posting movies online before they are available on home video, and affirms the right for people to use technology, such as ClearPlay, to skip objectionable material on audio and video works they have legally purchased.

As part of the Artists' Rights and Theft Prevention Act incorporated into the legislation, persons caught and convicted of camcording a movie in a theater could spend up to three years in prison and or pay a fine. Second-time offenders can spend up to six years in prison.

Meanwhile, persons convicted of illegally posting copyrighted material online that is intended for later commercial distribution (such as a movie to DVD, or music to CD) can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and/or pay a fine. The length of time depends on whether the person committed the offense for any “commercial advantage or private financial gain.” Second offenders can spend up to 10 years in prison.

The Family Movie Act of 2005, also included here, allows the personal and private use of technology that can temporarily alter a copyrighted work that has been legally purchased in order to screen out nudity, profanity, violence or other objectionable material. The technology cannot make a fixed copy of the altered version that was created for viewing at the time. Also, technology manufacturers must include a notice at the beginning of each showing of the altered content that “the motion picture is altered from the performance intended by the director or copyright holder…”

Studios and directors have opposed the technology as altering copyrighted material that changes the nature of the art they created. A federal lawsuit filed in Colorado against ClearPlay by the Directors Guild of America is expected to be dismissed once President Bush signs the bill, according to reports.Some legislators had objected to this provision of the bill, but said they voted for the omnibus package because of its copyright infringement efforts.

“While I support family-friendly entertainment, I believe this method is not only a violation of filmmakers' copyright protection, but also an infringement of their artistic vision,” Diane Watson (D-Calif.) told Associated Press.

The Video Software Dealers Association staff and membership lobbied on behalf of the bill's passage and worked with the National Association of Theatre Owners, which coordinated a lobbying effort, according to Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the VSDA.

“The bill will ensure that federal law enforcement has the ability to punish appropriately those unscrupulous individuals who hijack movies by camcording them in theaters or putting them on the internet before they are released on home video,” said Bersell. “Video thievery diverts revenues from legitimate video retailers and costs each video store in America more than $10,000 per year in lost rental revenue annually.”

Other pieces of legislation incorporated into the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act includes the reauthorization for the Library of Congress to carry out a comprehensive preservation program for motion pictures for research and education purposes.

The legislation also would allow libraries to create copies of certain copyrighted works that, in their last 20 years of copyright term, are no longer commercially exploited and are not available at a reasonable price.

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