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Retailers to offer DVD film filters

Published: Friday, April 16 2004 6:56 a.m. MDT

Wal-Mart and Kmart, two of the nation's biggest retailers, are planning to sell a new DVD player that includes a technology that has riled Hollywood — a controversial program that can automatically skip sexual content, graphically violent scenes and language deemed offensive.

The new DVD player, manufactured under the RCA brand by Thomson Inc., comes as public debate is heating up over whether the media have pushed the limits of decency, especially after too much of singer Janet Jackson was bared during this year's Super Bowl halftime show.

"I think the American public is concerned and is looking for a solution," said Bill Aho, chief executive officer of filtering-program developer ClearPlay Inc. The Salt Lake City firm is one of several companies battling a lawsuit filed by the biggest movie studios and major directors like Steven Soderbergh, John Landis and Steven Spielberg. The suit claims that filtering technology such as ClearPlay's produces an unauthorized and illegal version of their artistic work.

"It's against the First Amendment to stop the media from providing content that's edgier and edgier. It's up to technology," Aho said.

But the Directors Guild of America disagrees.

"In the guise of making films 'family-friendly,' ClearPlay seeks to make whatever 'edits' they see fit to any material they don't like," the group said in a prepared statement. "By not seeking the consent of the director, whose name on the movie reflects the fact that the film comprises his or her work, or of the studio as copyright holder, they can and do change the very meaning and intent of films."

Dave Arland, Thomson's vice president of U.S. corporate communications and government relations, said the company is watching the outcome of the lawsuit closely but decided to go ahead with the ClearPlay-enabled DVD player because of keen interest from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark.

"This was a major customer, Wal-Mart, expressing interest in the technology," Arland said. "It's another example of a way technology can be used by a parent to, at the very least, monitor, if not control, what a child is seeing."

RCA plans to start shipping the DVD player in the next few weeks. It is scheduled to be on shelves at Wal-Mart and Kmart in the next two months at a suggested price of $79, Arland said. Wal-Mart's version will be black, while Kmart's will be silver.

A Wal-Mart spokesman had no immediate comment about plans for the DVD player. Kmart representatives could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

The ClearPlay system uses a set of programmed commands tailored to about 500 individual movies released on DVD. Not all movies are available, and Aho said ClearPlay won't even try if filtering would ruin the film.

The commands tell the DVD player when to mute dialogue or skip segments that show 14 levels of violence, sex, nudity and profanity. The user can pick which filters to activate.

In "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," for example, the filter shows the title character — played by Arnold Schwarzenegger — squatting naked in the desert and starting to stand up, but cuts to a shot of him already standing and seen only from the chest up.

A team of ClearPlay employees screens films, which can be selected by the DVD owner. The directors and movie studios have argued that the ClearPlay system allows people who are not necessarily qualified to edit their films.

Aho responded, "The guys doing this are movie guys who have a passion for movies like nothing I'd ever seen. We think it's presumptive of the directors to want to follow movies into the home."

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