Bush Signs Bill to Let Parents Filter DVDs

Bush Signs Bill to Let Parents Strip DVDs (AP)

President Bush on Wednesday signed legislation aimed at helping parents keep their children from seeing sex scenes, violence and foul language in movie DVDs. The bill gives legal protections to the fledgling filtering technology that helps parents automatically skip or mute sections of commercial movie DVDs. Bush signed it privately and without comment, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. The legislation came about because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the manufacture and distribution of such electronic devices for DVD players. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content — even when it is considered offensive — would violate their copyrights.

The legislation, called the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, creates an exemption in copyright laws to make sure companies selling filtering technology won’t get sued out of existence. Critics of the bill have argued it was aimed at helping one company, Utah-based ClearPlay Inc., whose technology is used in some DVD players. ClearPlay sells filters for hundreds of movies that can be added to such DVD players for $4.95 each month. Hollywood executives maintain that ClearPlay should pay them licensing fees for altering their creative efforts.

Unlike ClearPlay, some other companies produce edited DVD copies of popular movies and sell them directly to consumers.
In a nod to the studios, the legislation contains crackdowns on copyright infringement by explicitly providing no legal protections for those companies that sell copies of the edited movies, creating new penalties for criminals who use small videocameras to record copies of first-run films in movie theaters, and setting tough penalties for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release.

At first glance, I was opposed to the legislation on the grounds of infringing the intellectual property rights of the copyright owners. If all that’s being done is allowing people to own equipment that automatically does the equivalent of hitting the mute or fast forward buttons, however, this legislation is perfectly reasonable. (The need to watch R-rated movies with one’s children eludes me, however.) The protections for the filmmakers described in the last paragraph of the excerpt are essential and I’m happy to see them included.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    At first glance, I was opposed to the legislation on the grounds of infringing the intellectual property rights of the copyright owners.…but then I thought, “Oh right! I forgot this was a Republican-sponsored bill…”

    JUST KIDDING. 🙂

    Seriously, this is harmless legislation that probably protects studios more than it hurts them.

  2. kappiy says:

    It is good to see that Congress and the President are continuing to pursue the most pressing and urgent issues of the day: first it was the millionaires steroid problem, next it was getting involved in a single family’s dispute over medical procedures, now we have safety from the horrible curse of R-rated movies.

    Their dutiful alacrity is unprecendented. Maybe now with these pressing issues out of the way, Bush and Congress can get around to more mundane matters, like finally passing the highway reauthorization bill or dealing with the genocide being perpetrated by Islamic terrorists in Sudan.

  3. Michael says:

    kappiy,

    While I’m dismissive of this bill as “harmless”, you are exactly right. The administration certainly seems to concentrate more on what they believe “sells” than they are on anything substantive lately

  4. James Joyner says:

    Well, it is a representative government. Congress responding to the expressed wishes of their constituents isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    And relatively non-controversial bills can get through in short order, not expending much legislative energy. Fixing Social Security and solving our dependence on foreign oil can’t be done that quickly.

    My guess, too, is that the impetus for the bill was mostly settling the dispute between the two industries at stake and heading off lawsuits that would have been good for no one.

  5. Eric says:

    I hope that every film maker that complains about this bill destroying the artistic integrity of their work will prevent their movies from being edited for airplanes or TV, as well.

  6. Michael says:

    James,

    I must have missed the big outcry over this. I stand corrected.

  7. Barry says:

    Michael, it was between the Shiavo case and the horror of baseball steroids. If you blinked, you probably missed it 🙂

  8. Ken says:

    Just one more step toward censureship. How about the parents taking responsibilty for what their kids are looking at or is that to old fashioned.?

  9. Half Sigma says:

    This is like paying someone to put bookmarks into a book so you can skip chapters marked with the bookmark.

    It’s not copying anything, so why is there even an issue of it violating the copyright law?

  10. Half Sigma says:

    But to comment further, i wouldn’t pay money for this. I say, let the kids watch the R rated scenes, they’re going to see them anyway in a few years, what the hell do you think your’e shielding them from?

  11. Just Me says:

    “How about the parents taking responsibilty for what their kids are looking at or is that to old fashioned.?”

    Well that is essentially what this allows them to do. Although, I don’t quite understand the desire to show an R rated film to your children, there are probably some PG-13 films and probably some PG films that could be made more family/kid friendly.

  12. McGehee says:

    I say, let the kids watch the R rated scenes, they’re going to see them anyway in a few years, what the hell do you think your’e shielding them from?

    And I say, let kids drink hard liquor — they’re going to drink anyway in a few years, what the hell do you think you’re shielding them from?

  13. John Thacker says:

    They still buy the original. I generally support the rights of consumers to do whatever they want to with the legal DVDs that they buy. I’d prefer that they also specifically allowed adding subtitles, for example. But this at least legalizes automatic Jar-Jar removal software for Star Wars Episode I, for example.

    Republican-sponsored? It carried on a voice vote. Dastardly Republicans, again passing a bipartisan bill.

    Allowing people to privately engage in censorship in their own homes with a legally bought copy of something? The horrors. I’d say it’s more pro-free speech and pro-fair use than anything else. Mind you, I think people ought to be able to add things and skip commercials, etc., so long as they buy a legal copy.