June 23, 2004
Principles, schminciples

From the "Core Principles" of the 2004 Texas Republican Platform:

The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct, and property

From today's LA Times:

Over Hollywood's long-standing objections, some members of Congress are endorsing legislation that would allow DVDs to be "sanitized" stripped of scenes that parents don't want their children to see or hear without first requiring the consent of studios or directors.


Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, told a congressional committee last week that such editing without the input of the directors and studios "disfigures the original vision of the creator."

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-North Hollywood) mustered a different argument against the legislation, saying it would send the wrong message to parents. "Technology should not become an excuse for avoiding the hard work of parenting," he said.

But Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), the bill's chief sponsor, suggested that Berman's position didn't reflect the challenges facing households in which kids are constantly being bombarded by the media.

"It's unrealistic and impractical to expect parents to monitor their children's video habits 24 hours a day," Smith said. "They need help."

Emphasis mine. Need I say more? LAT link via Pandagon.

UPDATE: I may not have had more to say, but Julia did. And how.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2004 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack

No, actually you don't.

Posted by: Smirking Chupacabra on June 23, 2004 3:39 PM

I've never liked these kinds of laws, even though they usually attract bipartisan support. (Remember Clinton and the V-chip, or Tipper Gore and "voluntary" recording labels?) The problem with these laws is that the parents don't make the decisions; instead, someone else decides what is and isn't "offensive" and all the parents get is a limited choice between the R-rated and various bowdlerized versions: basically, they can limit sex and (some) violence. No options for filtering pseudoscience, hate speech, etc.

It is ironic, though, that our moral guardians have finally found something about our Draconian copyright laws that they dislike. If this passes, I can see a Canadian film company suing the U.S. under NA"F"TA's intellectual property provisions.

Posted by: Mathwiz on June 23, 2004 5:29 PM

I'm throwing a flag on the play.

Smith is not asking someone to edit a film for him or his family values constituents, just sponsoring legislation that would allow movies to be commercially edited in such a way that would meet their parental standards.

This type of editing has been done by some Christian oriented video stores and demand has been growing since press reports (and one faux press report care of "The Daily Show") were broadcast nationally. The demand is a result of those parents taking responsibility for their families moral training.

But then the practice was challenged by the MPAA and others on the ground mentioned in your excerpt. Enter Smith's bill. Both sides have good points and I think the answer is somewhere in the middle, i.e. a prominent disclaimer that the film has been edited without directorial or studio input.

Posted by: Patrick on June 23, 2004 5:35 PM

Well, no, somewhere in the middle would be they leave the film, which has copyright protection for a reason, alone, and slap a label on it saying that it's not something you want to show your kid if this sort of thing offends you.

The nice man's response, though, is exponentially more disgusting than the proposal he's defending, which is something. "unrealistic and impractical"? I'm supposed to let other peoples' parents micromanage my child's education for their preferred set of social prejudices but I can't ask them to lock up the remote control?

That's just sick.

Posted by: julia on June 23, 2004 7:21 PM

Patrick does have a point, and even if Rep. Smith's silly bill passes, it won't force me to have to watch a child-friendly version of "Old School" or whatever. I'm more about the disconnect between the "family is responsible for its own welfare", which really ought to mean avoiding objectionable movies - it's not like there aren't several good websites, like MovieMom and ScreenIt, that have everything you'd want to know to make a judgment about these things - and the urge to inject the government into it.

I know that no candidate is bound to a party's platform, but it never ceases to amaze me how many Republicans around here make a point of disavowing theirs.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2004 7:57 PM

See, here's the thing: if you read the small print on the DVD or the video, by buying it you're agreeing not to do what they're doing. They're taking a copyrighted product, altering it without permission and selling it for profit.

In a world where parents are going broke paying fines for minor kids who download songs without their knowledge for personal use, this is supposed to be OK because parents can't be asked to supervise their children?

Posted by: julia on June 23, 2004 8:22 PM

I find the work of Jay-Z to be offensive. However, when DJ-Dangermouse covers up the audibly offensive bits with the mellifuous tones of The Beatles, The Black Album becomes family-friendly.

Still, it's hard to argue against a law that could make "The Phantom Edit" commercially viable... :)

Posted by: Michael on June 23, 2004 10:29 PM

If you blink a few times and read it just right, it looks like an endorsement of Gay Marriage. (Under the "responsible for its own...moral training, conduct" rubric.)

Posted by: Angry Bear on June 23, 2004 11:44 PM

I'm confident, Kuff, that you, as a newly minted parent, will supervise Olivia's consumption of DVD's. Why should that rightful parental responsibility ever be thrust upon producers of content, in ways that infringe upon the rights of adults like me (I have no children) to view a video?

I am an occasional creator of content, in the form of live performances. I retain copyright on those performances. I grant no one the right to modify them. The Supreme Court has ruled, not once but many times, in my favor. Julia is right: of you don't like what I produce (none of which, by the way, is in any way offensive), then damn it, supervise your kids' consumption!

Posted by: Steve Bates on June 24, 2004 1:05 AM

Isn't that something the stay-at-home mommys should be doing?

Posted by: Palolo lolo on June 24, 2004 8:09 AM

Palolo lolo, I appreciate the Repub-aimed snark, but I'll answer it as though you really meant it: Parents CAN supervise/censor/monitor their kids' media consumption, even if they both work... up to a point. My daughter had never seen a Disney product until she joined a Daisy troop, and their first outing was to "Brother Bear" last Fall (she had just turned 6). Once the kids get out into the world ("out into the world" being kindergarten, in this case), you have far less control over what they view. Then you have to supervise indirectly, by knowing the kinds of friends they hang out with, or the programs they might be attending. And there's that old modeling-and-instilling-appropriate-values thing. But that's what you sign up for when you become a parent.

I agree with Julia and Steve Bates: respect the artists' work, and caveat viewer.

(P.S. and OT: A mom-friend of mine pointed out that almost every Disney film involves the death of a parent or sibling in the early parts of the film, from Lion King to Finding Nemo, even Bambi, if memory serves. Is that a little weird, given the target audience?)

Posted by: CrispyShot on June 24, 2004 9:51 AM

Many of the above comments indicate a basic misconception about the issue. This is not about selling altered dvds, it's about allowing special software in the dvd player to cut out objectionable scenes. Actually a world of difference.

Parents can, right now, do the exact same thing the ClearPlay software does. All they have to do is watch the movie by themselves first, write down exactly which times they want to skip over, exactly when to mute out any words, etc. Then, whenever the child wants to watch the film, sit there for the entire 75 minutes with hands on two remotes, wildly clicking according to their plan.
ClearPlay just automates this process. If I have the right to skip over Bambi's mom dying manually, then I should have to right to do it automatically.

It's ridiculous that the studios are objecting to this, and the congressional response is entirely appropriate.

Posted by: TM on June 24, 2004 10:51 AM

No, I believe you are misunderstanding the issue. The lawsuit that is currently in the courts deals with special filtering DVD players, which I don't really have a problem with. The legislation that's being put through Congress has to do with selling unauthorized altered DVDs.

Posted by: julia on June 24, 2004 11:01 AM

I predict that eventually this type of editing is going to happen but with some provision requiring agreement of film distributors (who will agree for a fee.)

I think people are missing the bigger point. Just think if this legislation passes, somewhere out there some Conservative Christian will soon be able to rent a "cleaned up" version of Reservoir Dogs. His co-worker loves it and says it's great. He pops his popcorn and settles down for a nice 8 minute "feature" film that he's paid $6.00 to see. Just think of all the fun you guys will have making the "fool and his money" jokes.

Posted by: Patrick on June 24, 2004 1:26 PM

OK, here goes: H.R.4586

Title: To provide that making limited portions of audio or video content of motion pictures imperceptible by or for the owner or other lawful possessor of an authorized copy of that motion picture for private home viewing, and the use of technology therefor, is not an infringement of copyright or of any right under the Trademark Act of 1946.

How does this limit anyone to ClearPlay technology?

Posted by: julia on June 24, 2004 3:04 PM

The text of HR 4586, from thomas.loc.gov, would add to copyright law the provision that the following is not a breach of copyright:

"`(11)(A) the making of limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture imperceptible by or for the owner or other lawful possessor of an authorized copy of that motion picture in the course of viewing of that work for private use in a household, by means of consumer equipment or services that are operated by an individual in that household and serve only such household; and

`(B) the use of technology to make such audio or video content imperceptible, that does not create a fixed copy of the altered version.'

That sounds to me like it is, indeed, only about ClearPlay (ugh, what a name), and not about selling edited versions.

(Further down, under changes to Trademark law, is the requirement that the device make it clear that it's showing an edited version. Which sounds fine, until the next part, which says that even if the player doesn't do that, the manufacturer's civil liability is capped at $1000 per movie, which sounds like peanuts to me.)

Posted by: Eddie J. on June 24, 2004 9:03 PM

Very entertaining and well thought out opinions! First time I've seen your site. But just for clarification, HR 4586 does only cover filtering of authorized DVD's in the home. So first you buy or rent a regular DVD from your favorite store. Then take it home. Set your filters as you personally desire. And ClearPlay skips or mutes over what you want.

OK, I have a vested interest in that I'm the CEO of ClearPlay. I think the law is fairly innocuous, and simply preserves individual and family rights that are threatened by predatory litigation.

Seems to me it's a reasonable compromise--Hollywood can still make any movies they want, no one is allowed to make copies, but people can have it their way at home.

Posted by: Bill Aho on August 4, 2004 10:30 AM