Congress Clears Movie Censoring Technology

Companies providing technology that allows consumers to edit content of major movie titles touted new legislation passed this week that uses copyright law to guarantee the legality of such technology, which is currently being challenged by Hollywood movie studios and directors.

Companies such as Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay — which sells DVD players and recorders, televisions, cable and set-top boxes and digital video recorders that filter unwanted sexual and violent content, as well as foul language — hailed the legislation as a boost to user control.

Analysts covering technology and entertainment indicated companies should be free to offer such technologies, but also questioned the Congressional action while a court case is ongoing and highlighted concerns over the fact that in the process of editing, consumers might be compromising art.

“Yes, we want the consumer to be able to have media however they want it, but it’s important for us to know what the technology allows somebody to do to someone’s art,” GartnerG2 analyst Mike McGuire told TechNewsWorld. “This is an important social issue, and this is a really thorny subject.”

Filtering for Families

ClearPlay, currently being sued by eight of the major Hollywood movie studios and the Directors Guild of America, said the legislation was “expected to result in dismissal of the lawsuit filed against ClearPlay,” according to a company statement.

The company said it had received support from a number of family and parenting organizations and called the legislation, known as the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, “a real victory for families.”

“This ensures that parents will have the tools to control the movie content their families and children see in their own home,” said a statement from ClearPlay chief executive officer Bill Aho. “And, it means ClearPlay has a clear path to more significant business development opportunities.”

ClearPlay also pointed out that the legislation, which also provides stiffer penalties for piracy, will not affect companies in the Hollywood litigation rent or re-sell edited DVDs.

Importance and Impact

McGuire said he agreed that companies such as ClearPlay ought to have the right to market and sell the technology. However, he had reservations over the unintended consequences on movies and other art and media, which might be held from the market or preemptively changed beyond the editing and cutting that has already been done.

“It’s equally important that someone made the art with the expectation it would be taken for what it is,” he said, referring to the impact on the film, “Saving Private Ryan,” which could have its disturbing, realistic and powerful opening scenes filtered out with the technology.

McGuire also expressed concern that Congress passed the legislation while the court case is still in front of a judge.

“I’m not sure if I think that’s necessarily good for technology companies,” he added.

Little Demand for Decency

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman told TechNewsWorld that while ClearPlay and similar filtering technologies are interesting, the market is minimal.

“I think it’s more smoke than fire,” he said. “It’s not a big market. For all the talk about indecency, the majority of people like sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

Goodman, who described the current Congress as “activist,” said those who do not wish to view or hear violence, sexual content or foul language in movies can avoid it by simply not watching them.

“There seems to be an emphasis on what we can’t see, not what we want to see,” he said.

The analyst added that he did not believe more, similar technologies are on the way.

“I don’t think that you’ll see that much of it because I don’t think companies can make money off it,” he said. “The dollar and the clicker are the almighty authority. When push comes to shove, it’s a very small market.”

1 Comment

  • In my opinion, Mike Goodman is wrong in assuming that people are not interested in censoring what their children (and themselves) watch on tv or in movies. I personally stopped watching rated "R" movies a long time ago and so have many of my friends, even some "PG-13" movies do not have the best content. There are many parents who do not care, but fortunately there a lot that do and I think one of the reasons this technology is not more popular is that it has not been sufficiently publicized. I would love to have a dvd player that allows me to cut inappropriate material from the movies that I haven’t dared but would have watched. With regard to the subject of "loosing the art" of a movie, I think I would consider my civil liberties attacked if I wasn’t allowed to watch a movie the way I want to in my own home! Actually, if these dvd players become more common, the film industry may end up selling more dvds than before, since people are going to be able to watch them without worrying about the content.

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