Twelve years ago, Congress passed the Family Movie Act (FMA) with a simple objective: Allow families and individuals to control how they watch movies in their homes. The FMA said that if you want your children to see less violence, profanity or sex in movies, that’s your right, and companies can create filters to make this possible. At the time, I was the CEO of ClearPlay, a movie filtering technology for DVDs.
Hollywood bitterly opposed giving families these rights and unleashed a combination of predatory lawsuits against ClearPlay and a parade of well-financed lobbyists to Capitol Hill. To its credit, Congress chose right over might. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Utah’s own Sen. Orrin Hatch, was signed by the president on April 27, 2005. It was a good day for families.
Twelve years later, to borrow a Yogi Berraism, it’s déjà vu all over again.
DVDs are fading fast. The technology of the day is streaming. And Hollywood has pounced upon this opportunity to take back the rights granted under the FMA. This time the primary target is VidAngel, a service that provides content filtering for streamed movies. Four studios, led by Disney, have directed their armies of attorneys to attack the Utah-based company, managing to secure an injunction to prevent “irreparable harm” to their businesses. (Readers so inclined might give an incredulous chuckle.)
Make no mistake, Hollywood has squarely in its sights the freedom Congress meant to defend with the Family Movie Act. In 2005, Congress realized that the only way to protect family rights from the stranglehold of studio litigation was to pass a law. The same is true today. We need to update the Family Movie Act to protect streamed movies.
For the sequel, the studios have written a new script to deceive Congress. Now they claim that they’re not opposed to movie filtering, as long as it is licensed from the copyright holder. At first blush, this might seem reasonable. But the dirty little secret is that while the studios have been all too eager to talk the talk, they have never, ever walked the walk.
VidAngel repeatedly requested a license to stream content from the studios, proposing various approaches and business models. The studios’ response: not interested at any price. But it gets worse: In an effort to destroy the filtering industry, the studios quietly inserted clauses that prohibit content filtering into their contracts with streaming services. And in fact, it was recently revealed that Google Play, which had once been supportive of filtering, had changed its tune — and its code — to prevent ClearPlay from making new filters for streamed movies.
Because ClearPlay has no more new DVD players available and can no longer filter new streamed movies, and with VidAngel enjoined, the rights granted to families by the FMA are all but lost. Filtering industry revenue is down by an estimated 90 percent. One can picture the Hollywood studios celebrating their victory.
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Not so fast. Congress can once again step in to protect families by updating the FMA to ensure their right to filter streaming movies in the home. To that end, Protect Family Rights has been established to educate the public and work with elected officials to defend the rights granted in the Family Movie Act of 2005. Citizens who agree should urge their elected officials to support this family-focused legislation.
Yes, Hollywood has the right to load movies with increasing amounts of sex, violence and profanity. But no, Hollywood does not have the right to dictate what families watch in their homes.
Bill Aho is the executive director of Protect Family Rights, whose mission is to ensure the future of movie filtering. He was formerly the CEO of ClearPlay and has been an adviser to VidAngel.