mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act: My Opinion

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who offered up comments on this act in my post from yesterday. People had a lot of well-thought out opinions to share, and even the disagreements seemed respectful. You gave me a lot to ponder.

I didn't offer my own opinion yesterday because, quite frankly, I'm still not completely sure how I feel about this. One the one hand, I do agree that once someone buys a book or a DVD movie, they have the right to watch it or edit it as they want to their own satisfaction. Often, when I reread a book I've enjoyed, I will skip parts that I now find boring. And, when watching certain movies with what I consider excessive violence or gross scenes, I'll cover my eyes or look away if I feel disturbed by what I'm seeing.

That said, however, I still have some discomfort about the concept of ClearPlay filters. (I'm also disturbed by the idea of the government passing legislation that seems to exist to benefit one particular company, but that's a different issue.) I think I've managed to outline three reasons for my discomfort below, if anyone's interested.

So here are the reasons why I have mixed feelings about the filtering software and the new legislation:

1. Mass production -- not really my choice of what gets cut

My first issue with this software is a response to the idea that once I own a DVD I have the right to watch it as I want. While this is true, the difference with ClearPlay is that it doesn't exist to help me with my own individual choice. Instead, it creates a mass-produced set of choices which are given to everyone. Something about this disturbs me, because it feels like I'm giving up a certain amount of choice to someone else.

2. Profiting from a new version

Although the Act clearly prohibits someone from selling a remastered DVD with the objectionable scenes cut from it (a compromise offered to the studios), the fact is that a company is still making a profit from altering someone else's work, even if the buyers still have to give money to the studios for the original DVD. It seems to me that there's a legal hair here that's been split in a way that leads to a slippery slope. (Mixed metaphors 'r' us.) The end result of the two marketing strategies -- a filter or a remastered DVD -- is equivalent: a new version of the film. And in both cases, someone other than the studio is making a profit.

I look at it this way. Suppose I wrote a novel, and someone else out there typed up a set of notes telling readers which pages they should skip. Then suppose they sold that set of pages to anyone who wanted, as long as they had proof that the buyer had already bought a copy of my novel. Now, on the one hand, they're clearly not cutting into whatever amount of money I'm making from my own book. But on the other hand, they're making money off of the fact that people have bought my book. It could be argued that their set of notes is equivalent to a derivative work, such as fanfic or a role-playing game based on my novel. And I would be very upset if someone made money off of either of those things without a proper license.

In fact, let's extend this argument to the "fan vid" concept. Most fan vid creators I know respect the copyright of the studios, and don't sell their vids for a profit. Now, suppose instead of creating a remastered DVD, a fan vid creator programmed a filter to create their vid for you when you popped in the appropriate DVD. Would they now have the right to charge for that filter, and make a profit?

3. Alteration of "art," or at least plot

An article I read a while back about ClearPlay pointed out that the filters sometimes chop up the movies in ways that make it difficult to follow the plot. Here's a made up example. Suppose there's a movie where two characters sleep with each other, and then one of them betrays the other using information they discussed while in bed together. By deleting the bedroom scene, ClearPlay software would also delete the vital plot point, making the movie harder to follow. Would the viewer blame the filter or the movie maker for the hard-to-follow story?

So there's where I currently stand. I welcome more reasoned, passionate, and respectful debate from anyone who still wishes to discuss the issue.
Tags: copyright, politics
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