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Digital Cleanup of Hollywood
May 3, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Should you be able to use technology to remove from movies those offensive things you don't want your kids exposed to, like profanity, nudity, mayhem and murder?

If not thwarted by a lawsuit, some recently passed legislation will allow you to purchase gear that enables you to do just that.

President Bush signed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, designed to deal primarily with movie piracy. Consequently, the Motion Picture Association of America, the lobbyist for the big movie studios, was instrumental in getting the bill passed. But attached to the legislation was an appealing-sounding addition: the Family Movie Act. This part of the bill is causing consternation for some Hollywood heavyweights like Steven Spielberg.

Back in 2002, Spielberg, eight Hollywood movie studios, and the Directors Guild of America filed a lawsuit against a little company in Utah. With respect to the Utah company, the just-passed bill will result in the suit being tossed out.

Hollywood's in a tizzy. So, what's all the fuss about?

Well, a company called ClearPlay manufactures DVD players that allow consumers to skip over objectionable material in a movie. ClearPlay calls this "parental control technology."

The Family Movie Act specifically permits the use of such equipment, i.e., the kind designed to strip from flicks scenes that families don't want to see. The technology even allows parents to change an R-rated flick into a PG one.

ClearPlay CEO Bill Aho says that the new bill "ensures that parents will have the tools to control the movie content their families and children see in their own home."

But the Directors Guild says it doesn't like the idea of film editing decisions resting in the hands of someone other than the filmmaker.

"This legislation is about much more than giving consumers a choice in what they watch and don't watch," a DGA statement says. "They [ClearPlay and others] are marketing property - unauthorized edits to films - which they didn't conceive, didn't invest in and don't own ­ all without the consent or participation of the copyright owner and the director."

Let's examine this a bit more closely, though. ClearPlay isn't making the decision, parents are.

ClearPlay's device incorporates a content filter that has 14 levels of permissiveness, allowing 16,384 potential configurations. It's really like a very sophisticated, automated, fast-forward button that is used in the privacy of one's home.

Passage of the new bill will not have an effect on companies named in the suit that actually edit and remarket films, companies like CleanFlicks and Family Flix. These entities purchase original versions of DVDs and excise inappropriate material. They then sell or rent the edited movies to the public.

The way I see things, the real reason Hollywood's ticked is because it didn't come up with the innovative idea itself, and in failing to do so lost the attendant profits. Apparently, it was too busy spewing out rubbish like "Sin City" and "Saw," which have images that are detrimental to the minds of adults as well as those of our kids.

The reason this product was conceived was because of a need that Hollywood has all but ignored: providing to parents the same thing that's available to airlines, cable and broadcast television ­ a family-friendly edit.

I'll bet a Blockbuster gift certificate that if the new companies are free to do business, and they experience the success that's anticipated, Tinseltown will be scurrying to offer a competing product.

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Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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