Compromise isn’t censorship

Wal-Mart is the first retailer to sell the RCA ClearPlay dvd player. Built into the dvd player, ClearPlay software offers the following exciting benefits:

ClearPlay works with the regular DVDs that you already rent or purchase from your local stores. When you put a movie in a ClearPlay enabled DVD player, you can enjoy the show — without needing to worry about the occasional R or PG-13 content. It’s as if you had super-fast fingers and were able to punch remote control buttons fast and accurately enough to skip and mute certain content, but still maintain the movie’s continuity and entertainment value!

Wowie! That’s awesome! Now parents need not be bothered with monitoring what their children watch. It’s MovieNanny&trade!

All sarcasm aside, I don’t have a problem with this software or how it “modifies” movies. It’s a filter that leaves the movie whole, which should be obvious to all but the most obtuse critics of ClearPlay. A dvd player can’t hack up a dvd to leave only the “non-offensive” parts. Anyone who wishes to not see or hear objectionable material may use a dvd player with this software to make viewing simple. There is definitely a niche for this.

I think this next quote from Michael Medved is simplistic and utopian, but it explains a little bit about the audience interested in this type of technology:

“Movie fans who have been worried about excesses in violence, sexuality, and language can now enjoy their favorite films with a sense of security and satisfaction.”

For example, in its analysis of About a Boy, ClearPlay has found offensive material. The original version contains moderate Blood & Gore, moderate Sex/Nudity, heavy Profanity, and minor violence. The filtered ClearPlay version contains minor Blood & Gore, minor Sex/Nudity, no Profanity, and minor violence.

I’m not sure which movie they watched for the Sex/Nudity component, but I don’t think it was the About a Boy starring Hugh Grant. However, I don’t have the same sensibilities as others, so I’m willing to consider that I’m “immune” to a moderate abundance of Sex/Nudity. I’m not sure about the moderate Blood & Gore, either, but I’m willing to consider that some people don’t want to see a kid get beaten up, even if it’s necessary to move the story along.

As for Profanity, I fully agree that it’s pervasive throughout the movie. However, it’s important in this movie to have profanity. Real people swear. When writing a character, the writer’s goal is to make that character real. Thus, movie characters swear. When Will says “Fuck” in response to a statement by Marcus, it shows Will’s sense of being overwhelmed better than “I’m overwhelmed”. Marcus acknowledged that he didn’t know why Will swore, but it made him feel better. Someone had understood him. Filtering it out detracts from the movie, which gets back to the concept of parenting versus a government/corporate provided content nanny.

Of course, this technology will sell. Despite my opinion, people want it, and they will get it. Being America, there is, of course, another side.

This article explains the legal brouhaha that’s erupted because of the software. I don’t see a compelling justification for legal action because of ClearPlay’s software, but it’s happening:

…Clearplay and its rivals face a challenge from the other direction.

A Hollywood consortium, including some of Tinseltown’s top directors, has sued Clearplay and others, arguing that they are abusing the films’ artistic integrity.

By producing – without permission – altered versions of intellectual property, censors are effectively pirating directors’ and studios’ work, the lawsuit argues.

Clearplay hopes to escape through a loophole: instead of making new versions of films, it argues, its technology is simply another way of playing the existing movie – no more an abuse than a viewer fast-forwarding a tape in his own home.

That last sentence doesn’t explain a loophole. It explains a clear answer to why legal efforts to stop this are silly. There is no legal basis for stopping this. ClearPlay is not altering the source material. The copyrighted source is never touched, so none of the author’s rights as the creator of the work are infringed. The only arguments for attacking it are philosophical.

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

Since America is pre-occupied with “objectionable content” issues this year, I’ll leave it to the British to have the appropriate response to our hysteria:

American cinephiles will soon be able to enjoy their movies without sex, violence, swearing – indeed, without any of the interesting bits.

That’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s representative of reality. Beyond the instances where sex, violence, swearing, and drug use are necessary for a story, humans are interested in those topics. Not all humans, but enough that there is an industry for it. Right or wrong, it will continue. But there are legitimate ways to “please everyone” while not infringing upon anyone’s free speech. Imagine that…

2 thoughts on “Compromise isn’t censorship”

  1. Interesting. I find it “ironical” that a Hollywood consortium would be so quick to sue Clearplay for “abusing the films’ artistic integrity,” considering it’s pretty common practice for films to be heavily altered for airing on network television. They ought to litigate the horrible dubbing of curse words instead of spending time and monetary resources going after a company that isn’t altering the source material in the first place. Oh, but wait. Every time a movie airs on network television, altered or not, there are royalties. I guess that makes it ok. Silly me.

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