The House of Representatives is considering legislation “that would let parents and children filter the curse words, sex scenes and violence out of movie DVDs”. Senate bill S. 167 passed the Senate, so the House is its final obstacle before it lands on President Bush’s desk for his signature. I think everyone can assume that he’ll sign it. Here’s the surprising point: I don’t care.
I’ve written about free speech and our need to protect it, especially the speech that we least enjoy, but this legislation doesn’t upset me. It’s a blow against the boneheads in charge of Hollywood studios who wouldn’t know business sense if Congress stapled it to the desk of every executive. For a group so historically focused on the greenback instead of artistic merit, this doesn’t surprise me. Rather than embrace the potential for an expanded audience, the studios seek to shut down anything they don’t control. This is very much an “old media” strategy when there wasn’t money to be made in new ways or, wait for it… consumers who wouldn’t purchase the Hollywood product before technology made it possible to be
family-friendly safe watered-down.
Specifically, the Family Movie Act of 2005 addresses the following issue:
The legislation was introduced because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the makers and distributors of technology for DVD players that would skip movie scenes deemed offensive. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content would violate their copyrights.
But the legislation would create an exemption in the copyright laws to make sure companies that offer the technology like ClearPlay, a Salt Lake City business, won’t get sued out of existence.
An unfortunately worthy goal, although perhaps the “activist judges” would interpret the law as they did the invention of the VCR. Dare we trust the system? Of course the answer is no, and I think we all know the primary reason. This issue involves “family”, so it’s a political goldmine, no legislative necessity required. That it involves “family” against Hollywood transforms it into a bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded four-bagger. Consider:
“These days, I don’t think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn’t come with a remote control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use an equivalent electronic device to protect their children from offensive material.”
Yes, but wouldn’t strapping a collar on your child and putting the offensive material beyond the electric fence be as effective? Even though that amazing technological device known as the remote control can be used as a MovieNanny™ to “protect” children via its surprisingly effective On/Off button, I’m kidding. Representative Smith is correct that devices like the ClearPlay DVD player are simply electronic devices that filter content, helping parents to
avoid responsibility protect their children from objectionable material. The original version of the disc isn’t change. Take the DVD out of the player, put it into a non-ClearPlay DVD player and the movie plays as the studio and director released the film. The studios can complain, but there is no issue.
Rather than write a new ending, I’ll rehash something I wrote last April. Behold:
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?
But I still think there’s something to that whole invisible fence thing.