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House Panel OKs DVD Filtering

22 Jul, 2004 By: Brooks Boliek

WASHINGTON — On a near party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would exempt from legal liability companies that make products for filtering purportedly offensive content from motion pictures.

The Family Movie Act sailed through the committee on an 18-9 vote, despite Democratic efforts to block the legislation or include amendments highlighting problems with the measure.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., criticized the legislation saying it is unnecessary and will not achieve its stated goal of allowing parents to protect their children from objectionable content.

“This does not empower parents to make editorial decisions to protect their children,” he said. “It empowers for-profit companies like ClearPlay to make editorial decisions about what scenes can and cannot be seen."”

Berman and other Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to force a settlement between Utah-based ClearPlay and the DGA and the studios. The DGA and the studios sued the company claiming that it infringes on their copyrights because the makers are cut out of the editing process.

“We as a committee are intruding into a lawsuit,” said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. “Let's not kid ourselves. The parties of that particular litigation are waiting for action, and this legislation creates leverage for ClearPlay.”

But the bill's chief author, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, rejected that argument.

“This issue has never been about one company or one technology,” he said. “It has always been about the ultimate rights of parents to limit the profanity, sex, and violence that their children are exposed to in the privacy of their own home.”

Democrats, however, argued that Smith's arguments ring hollow. An amendment offered by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., that would have restricted the legislation to filtering systems that only edit violence, sex and language was rejected.

Berman pointed out that Thomson has pulled the ClearPlay enabled players off the shelves after Nissim Corp. sued ClearPlay, alleging that its filtering technology violated four patents.

Berman recited material from Nissim' Web site that advertises: “An adult can play a version of an adult video that seamlessly excludes content inconsistent with the viewer's adult content preferences, and that is presented at a level of explicitness preferred by the adult. Adult content categories are standardized and are organized into five groups Who, What, Camera, Position and Fetish.”

Said Berman: “So when you say it's about sex and violence and empowering parents, you're really saying it's about the money."

But Smith was undaunted, and he obviously had the votes.

“These days, I don't think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn't come with a remote control,” he said. “Yet, there are some who would deny parents the right to use the equivalent electronic device that would protect their children from offensive material on television.”

That point of view is not shared by Hollywood. The studios license cleaned up versions of films for TV, airlines and other markets, and ClearPlay is no different, they argue.

“You're getting a doctored, reinterpretation of the product,” said Dan McGinn, a DGA spokesman. “What they have is a new version of the product. It should be licensed.”

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