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The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act

Have people seen the AP article on the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act? The link to the Boston Globe webpage of the article is here, and the link to the NY Times webpage with the article is here. I'm surprised I haven't seen more discussion about it.

Basically, the bill -- which is now law -- creates an exemption in copyright law, which protects companies like ClearPlay. (In fact, the more cynical critics have claimed that the bill's sole purpose was to benefit this one company.) ClearPlay sells filters for your DVD players that automatically skip sections of DVDs. The filters are programmed to cut material some might consider offensive, like sex, violence, or language. The idea is that parents could let their children watch any DVD movie and know that certain scenes they might object to will be cut.

The movie studios have been fighting ClearPlay, claiming that what they're doing is a violation of copyright. Their basic argument is that by changing the content of the films, the filters are creating a new version of the film which is inconsistent with the artistic intent of the creators. Although the bill now allows ClearPlay to sell its filters, the bill does acknowledge that selling a "remixed" copy of the film on a DVD is a copyright violation. So while a company could sell you a preprogrammed filter that would skip certain scenes in certain movies, they can't sell you a DVD with those scenes cut. Of course, the problem ClearPlay has is that the filters have to be programmed on a per-movie basis. If you rented or bought a DVD that the filter wasn't programmed to edit, the movie would run as normal, with whatever sex, violence, and language it has. So if you buy one of these filters, you also have to make sure you only watch certain movies and not others, if you want the "objectionable" scenes edited out.

So...opinions? Should companies like ClearPlay have the right to do this? Does it differ from the way films are edited for television, since in that case the studios are usually consulted? Does this technology and the new law have implications for the world of fan fiction or fan videos? Where would you draw the line?

House of Mabfan: lots of questions, no answers.

Comments

I think it's fantabulous. When you buy a DVD, you have the right to watch it however you want to in your own home. It absolutely should not be illegal to do that. I've seen suggested elsewhere (probably BoingBoing) that people would be happy to see filters for only the "good parts", i.e., the nudity, sex, violence, and swearing :-)

I think this makes it that much easier for all sorts of other technologies that might be developed to allow people to use and remix the media they buy any way they wish. It can only be a good thing.

Too much

See, I think the producers/directors/executives should have to give the permission first for the filtering to be applied. The same way they need to have content excised for a television broadcast.
I wouldn't want my work censored from its original intent unless I had given express permission for it to be done.
Maybe these movie companies should do the editing themselves to take in front of the ratings board and then give you the option when you start the dvd, would you like to see the Unrated, the R, or the PG-13 etc, version? Then the dvd manufacturers could set the filtering to the parent's discretion.
Personally, I just see it as another way to let the government help babysit your children..
ok, rant-mode OFF.

Re: Too much

So do you see buying a DVD more as buying a limited license to view the content? I just don't get why, if I buy a DVD, I can't do anything I want to it within my own home. I'm not redistributing it, I'm just choosing how to watch it. I mean, I could let the movie keep playing while I got up to go to the bathroom, and that would change the work from its original itent.

And this is not "another way to let the government help babysit your children." This is a private company selling these filters, and nobody is forcing anyone to buy them or use them. This is a way to let parents babysit their own children.
I don't see the problem. Once a person's bought a copy of the work, they're entitled to do anything they like with it except make copies. If you buy a book, you're entitled to rip pages out of it, or to cut it up and paste it together in ways that you find interesting, make a collage, or whatever. And what ClearPlay is selling is the equivalent of a pair of scissors and a list of which pages to cut out of a book.

It's easy to forget that the sole purpose of copyright law, at least according to the USA constitution, is to provide a financial incentive for artists and inventors. Congress is not authorised to grant copyrights for other reasons, such as to protect creators' 'artistic intent'; the constitution recognises no such right. So, at least in the USA, so long as you're getting your royalty, it's none of your business what people do with it.

And what ClearPlay is selling is the equivalent of a pair of scissors and a list of which pages to cut out of a book.

Excellent analogy.
I tend to think yes, they should be able to do it, with appropriate disclaimers and maybe an automatic fee without right of refusal to the movie's copyright holders, not unlike the fee for public performance of music.

After all, I can skip pages in a book -- I can even buy a copy and cross those scenes out in big black ink. It's harder to do with a VHS tape, and almost impossible with a DVD -- but their technical ability to make something which resists tampering by the end user does not confer a legal right not to be tampered with. I think there's some serious danger that the rights of an owner of a piece of art to use their legally purchased copy in any way they please (is this called the doctrine of first sale, or did I hallucinate that?) are being eroded by new technologies, and this could be interepreted as a corrective to that.

OTOH if you can do it for this kind of filter, then IMO it needs to be legal to do it with *any* kind of filter, including one that only shows the dirty bits. The law should not discriminate on the basis of content.
The problem is, originally companies did sell edited copies of the movies (I believe they could be rented, too). The movie studios rightly sued over the copyright violation inherent in that practice, and I guess this law was a bit of the fallout. However, the studios are continuing to claim copyright violations, when selling just a filter is clearly not (that's the whole point of the new law).

Even if you buy a movie, and a filter, you can still watch the movie unedited if the kids aren't around. You can't do that if the movie was sold in the edited state. You don't even need to buy the movie from the filter provider - ClearPlay in particular does not sell movies.

Since ClearPlay requires you to purchase their specially modified DVD player (they apparently no longer offer a software-based filter), I wonder if they would turn around and sue someone who offered filters for sale that worked on their DVD player? Especially if the filter was one of the "only show the dirty bits" type.

I don’t think a movie studio has a right to require me to watch an entire movie if I’m going to watch any of it any more than a publisher has a right to require me to read an entire book in order if I’m going to read any of it. Now, I as a reader or viewer who cares about the art in what I’m reading or watching want to read/see the whole thing. (Which often means I want to see something different from what was released in theaters, but that’s a different topic.) But I don’t think an author/director or a publisher/studio gets to tell me what I have to put in my brain. (I do see some societal interest in making sure that an artist’s entire creative work is available to viewers as the artist intended it to be, if they want to view it that way, but I don't think the government should criminalize me skipping over the scary or boring bits any more than it should criminalize me giving up on a book halfway through because it was written by Alan Dean Foster I don’t like it.)

Then again, I think US IP law in the form its taken over the last decade or so is an appalling, dangerous, socially cancerous travesty to start with, so I see this particular issue as more or less a question of where to place the deck chairs on the Titanic. :-)
Best Buy and Wal-Mart sell edited versions of music albums, without telling you they're edited. You have to look closely at the UPC code. And it's with the record labels' blessing...and without the artists' prior knowlege or consent. That, to me, is a form of "messing with content" that should not be allowed. Once a person buys it, they should be allowed to do what they want with it as long as they don't in turn make money from it or "take away" money the originator should have made from it. i.e., no further distribution. But "fair use" is fair use.

I have no problems with the concept of ClearPlay, but it would be nice if it could be "user-tweaked"...that is, let the parent decide to what level they want to filter.

I do have a problem with (what I'm interpreting as) the inability of the product to apply to movies going forward since apparrently the coding is movie-specific and already in there...so in a year or two when a whole new batch of movies have come out, is the user going to have to buy ClearPlay's product all over again?
but it would be nice if it could be "user-tweaked"...that is, let the parent decide to what level they want to filter.

According to their Web site, they do allow this, although they don't go into specifics other than to say that there are 14 different settings you can play with.

so in a year or two when a whole new batch of movies have come out, is the user going to have to buy ClearPlay's product all over again?

You buy the DVD player once. You continue to buy the filters, which you download from their Web site (for a fee), burn onto a CD, and then put onto the DVD player.
Ah! Well that's cool, then.

I'm all for the offering of tools to help parents bring up their kids however they see fit...I'm opposed to caving in to parents pressuring the TV/movie people to do it for them. Don't think show X is suitable? Don't let your kid watch! If you can't control your own kid's viewing habits, that's not the TV's fault its yours. IMAO.
I don't see a problem. I like zsero's scissors-and-index analogy. The only problem would be if certain filtering algorithms got preferential legal treatment -- e.g. if the babysit-your-kids filters were ok but the just-show-me-the-sex ones weren't, or if content producers were required to cooperate by labelling scenes on the disc.

If I buy it I can view it however I want, and I can use whatever third-party tools I like to do that.

Now, all that said, when will I be able to buy a widget that skips past all the legal junk and previews at the beginning of a DVD? This gets really tiresome when watching multi-disc collections (like TV series).
when will I be able to buy a widget that skips past all the legal junk and previews at the beginning of a DVD?

Rumor has it that in order to get a license to make a DVD player, you have to promise not to let the customer skip over the scenes marked as unskippable, i.e., the legal junk and the ads. (It's a rumor because as far as I can tell, in order to get the complete specs for Things Your DVD Player May Not Do, you have to sign an NDA.)

A Linux box with xine and libdvdcss might do what you want. (Disclaimer: I don't know whether or not installing libdvdcss is legal in the US.)
the legal junk cannot be skipped. the previews/ads, however, can usually be leapfrogged by hitting "menu" just as they're starting.
I know there are a number of religious enclaves, both Christian and Jewish, which use such technology to screen movies for their adherents to allow them to enjoy popular culture without violating their morals, and I'm all for that. But I do have two objections. The first is that I worry this would be the first step to having monitors on what level of sex and violence people watch in their own home, just as your library check-outs and internet viewing habits can now easily be scanned. The second is, most movies with sex or violence aren't appropriate for kids in ways that go beyond sex or violence. Tell me that the average ten-year old would be able to appreciate the emotional nuances of Apocalypse Now, with or without the violence. Mel Brooks commented on the DVD of Blazing Saddles that he can't watch his films on TV because they're cut so extensively for language that they're no longer comprehensible. Terminator? Chocolat?

There are movies made specifically for kids which have plenty to keep adults amused and involved; I find it silly to use that as a defense of censorship. You could do nothing but watch G and PG movies for a year (although why these parents can't go out and play a little soccer with their kids now and again is beyond me) and not come to the end of the amazing offerings available. Monster's Inc? Flight of the Navigator? Isn't this why we dreamed up the rating system in the first place?
I'm with the "you can edit your movie as you want in your own home" faction; I blogged about this last year.

I'm somewhat disappointed by the fact that there's now an explicit law protecting ClearPlay; I was kinda hoping that the ClearPlay issue would give the Supreme Court a chance to put the smackdown on the MPAA and remind the "content" industry that their copyrights do not make them feudal lords over their customers.
It bothers me that there is now actually a law about this. But in the end, it's not really any different from when I watch The Empire Strikes Back and skip all the Luke parts. *eg*
Have I got this straight? There are people who are prepared to let their kids watch DVDs which are not made specifically for their age range, and who don't want to watch with the kids in case of problems. There are people who trust some commercial company to decide what will scare, titillate or otherwise traumatise their kids. And there are enough of these people to make marketing a DVD player just for them a commercial proposition? Wow.

I'm not a parent. Does it show?

And I'm not a film maker either, but if I were, I might feel that I'd rather have my film made whole and censored by people who watch it on DVD, than have it cut to suit those people before it ever got out of the studio.
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