WASHINGTON The U.S. House is expected to give final passage today to a bill that would legalize a technology that filters sex scenes, bad language and violence from commercial DVDs thereby letting Salt Lake-based ClearPlay Inc. off the legal hook in its long-running battle with the movie industry.
"We would be dropped from the industry's lawsuit" if the bill passes, predicted ClearPlay CEO Bill Aho, who was in the nation's capital Monday for a panel discussion on the rights and wrongs of editing copyrighted movies for objectionable content.
The Family Movie Act passed the House last year but got sidetracked in the last-minute shuffle at the end of the session. This year, the Senate has already passed the bill, sponsored in the past by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who predicted Monday that it will pass easily today.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a co-sponsor, and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has been a co-sponsor of the House version in the past.
Passage of the bill would likely not affect other Utah-based companies that alter movie content for objectionable materials, like Pleasant Grove-based Cleanflicks Media. That firm uses an editing process and is also named in an industry lawsuit naming eight movie-sanitizing companies.
Cleanflicks CEO Ray Lines, Smith and Aho squared off Monday against Marshall Herskovitz, a movie director and producer whose credits include "Traffic" and "The Last Samurai," and Marjorie Heins, an intellectual property rights expert and free expression advocate.
The practice of creating "family friendly" versions of movies has grown in popularity among parents wanting to better control the content of movies their kids are watching, but it generates passions on both sides of the heated debate.
The fight between the movie industry and the sanitizers is likely not going to go away because Congress passed a bill. At issue is a fundamental right of parents to decide what their children see versus the rights of those who create an artistic product to see the integrity of their work maintained.
"It is the right of parents to decide what is best for their children to see," Smith said, likening the filtering technology to shielding your child's eyes from something you don't want him to see.
ClearPlay would fall under the scope of the new legislation that specifically mentions filtering devices as opposed to editing, and even the bill's supporters admitted it would benefit only one company ClearPlay currently offering the modified movies.
Rather than edit copyrighted movies, ClearPlay's customers purchase a filter uniquely tailored to each movie that automatically skips sex and violence and mutes the bad language. But the original format of the movie is not altered in any way.
Herskovitz wasn't buying that, saying in a digital age a movie is an artistic creation made up of binary code. And ClearPlay is changing the binary code and, by definition, changing what the artist intended.
"In fact, every single film has to have been edited in their offices," he said. And ClearPlay's product "is a new program that is not the program I made."
Herskovitz and the rest of Hollywood can see the writing on the wall, and there is but muted opposition to the bill, in part because it does not allow unauthorized editing of the materials, only a technological filter that skips the objectionable material.
Cleanflicks' Lines is taking a different legal tact, arguing that once a customer buys a movie, it is theirs to do with what they want. And at Cleanflicks, the customer brings in the store-bought version and in return they receive the original back and an edited copy minus all the stuff the customer doesn't want.
And it is the customer who sets the standard of what is removed and what stays.
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