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Family Entertainment Act, Revisited

Back in April of 2005, I mentioned the passage of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act and then gave my own opinion on the law.

To remind everyone, the Act created an exemption in copyright law that allowed companies to create filtering software for movies on DVD. So if you bought or rented a film that had content the company considered objectionable, such as foul language, excessive violence, or nudity, the software would cause those section to be skipped when you played the DVD.

At the time, we had a lot of good, respectful debate on whether or not this was a good idea, and I pointed out why I myself felt uncomfortable with the concept.

Well, I'm not the only one uncomfortable with the idea of companies "sanitizing" films.. So is Judge Richard P. Matsch. Last Thursday, in Denver, Colorado, he ruled that selling an edited version of a film is an "illegitimate business." However, his ruling seems to be aimed solely at companies that sell an actual new version of the film, rather than those that create software to used with a licensed copy. For example, ClearPlay, which creates software filters, issued this press release, which reminds people that what their company does is protected by the Act. The companies named in the lawsuit, such as CleanFilms and CleanFlicks, would buy a new copy of the movie for each edited one they sold, a way to avoid accusations of piracy.

I'm fascinated to see what happens next...

Copyright © Michael Burstein


I saw that piece when it came out the other day. It's not a complete win for artists but its a step in the right direction.

What I'm more concerned with is the Senate now wants to restructure the MPAA ratings system because
of this

Election year pandering or America's own religious police?
I know a lot of people who don't like the MPAA ratings systems for many reasons.

I once had a conversation with my uncle, who works in Hollywood, about it. If I remember the conversation correctly, he equated the ratings system with a form of censorship, because it gives the committee power to rate a movie in such a way that theaters won't show it.

On the other hand, I myself would prefer a more explicit system, such as using S, V, and L for Sex, Violence, and Language, so I'd know what to expect going on. There are certain images that would disturb me or give me nightmares, and I don't want to walk into a film without proper warning. (For example, I do not like horror movies and would not want to see one.)

You might want to go back and see what the discussion was like in the previous posts, BTW. Some people pointed out that filtering movies is a way of putting choice in the hands of the consumer -- again, if I recall the discussion correctly.
On the MPAA system, yes - I agree that S,V,L would be good add-ons. I think its bizarre that a movie where people are shot and killed only gets a PG-13 whereas a movie where two people mutually consent to sex is rated R.

On the filtering thing, what happened to the good old filtering system of parents make the choice? And there's always the FF on the remote control, too. Or consumers could get a chip in their DVD players and the DVDs can be encoded so that each scene has a tag: S,V,L and folks can opt to take out what they want.

To filter a film before release is more costly and therefore will require bigger sales. Put the onus on the consumer, IMHO. That's the individual having the problem with the material.

Sorry - I get hives when I think about censorship.
Oh and... my concern with the Senate piece is that the D.C. politicans are definitely NOT qualified to legislate and censor.
I think Judge Matsch correctly interpreted the law, since the scrubbed DVD is clearly a derivative work based on the original, and even making a single copy brings you under the purview of copyright law. By contrast, one could argue that even before there was a specific law protecting its service, ClearPlay was not actually violating anybody's copyright, because it wasn't copying--it was just skipping over particular scenes in its playback.

However, I think the law is an ass, for the reasons that Matthew Yglesias gives here:

Intellectual property is supposed to serve the broad public interest...rather than the narrow interests of any particular group of creators or distributors.... The entire [???] is to ensure the availability of new works by setting up incentives for their creation. But intellectual property rights also create costs by making it harder for people to obtain content (high prices) or to make new derivative works (everything from mashups to these CleanFlixed movies, etc.). The policy goal needs to be striking a balance that serves the public interest....

Overwhelmingly, the impact of a service like CleanFlix is to make versions of works available to people who otherwise wouldn't be consuming them
at all. Even in a CleanFlix world, authors of "unclean" content will still enjoy extremely close to 100 percent of the pre-CleanFlix market. There's no reason at all to think that the existence of this sort of service will seriously reduce future production of new things.

Artists and so forth who think their interests are being served by pushing a strong-IP doctrine on this front are essentially dupes. The people who control the existing
distribution channels for film have a very serious interest in using the new-style super-strong IP rules to insulate themselves from the winds of technological change. So, in essence, they're pushing forward on all fronts, stomping on various totally non-harmful cases of putative infringement and attempting to radically curtail people's ability to do what they want to do with content they've purchased.

What happens next is that the studios will release "edited for family values" versions of their popular movies, just like they have "edited for television" and "edited for airplane viewing" versions, and collect all the extra revenue (and then some) that previously went to CleanFilms and CleanFlicks.
I wonder what the market for this stuff is. Are there really people who want to see an R rated movie without the seens that make it an R. I mean, wouldn't that make some R-rated movies about the length of a commercial?

I don't like the current system of rating either. And the DC thing makes me very irritated. The thing that kills me is that producer isn't bothered by the rating, and finds the rating appropriate. So Congress is better qualified than the producer to determine the rating? And -- don't they have more important things to be working on right now? Grrr.
Actually, I watched Demolition Man by fast forwarding through all the violence and watching all the sci-fi comic bits. It was a hilarious half our sitcom.

And when I watch Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death I always skip scene 1, which has the only display of naked breasts in the whole movie, and countributes very little to the plot.

So I have some sympathy for the CleanFlicks people, although I'd rather make the editorial judgements myself.

December 2016

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