Bush Signs Bill to Let Parents Filter DVDs
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 Ã¢€” even when it is considered offensive Ã¢€” 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.