Wednesday, April 20, 2005

censor-me elmo

yesterday congress passed the family entertainment and copyright act, which hollywood both loves and hates. hollywood likes parts of the bill for it's "antipiracy" provisions. though there seems to be some confusion about that portion:

The less controversial aspects of the bill, which makes it a federal crime to use video cameras to record films in movie theaters, did not command as much debate. The Act sets tough penalties of up to 10 years in prison for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release. Moviegoers caught using video cameras in theaters would face up to three years in prison for a first offense and up to six years for later arrests.

10 years for leaking a song or movie? 3-6 years for videotaping a movie? those are some harsh penalties... but what does the previously linked sf chronicle say about this?

The bill also makes it a federal offense to use a video camera to record movies in a theater, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It also allows the record industry to seek damages against a person who releases a music CD before its official release.

someone is confused... so which offense is punishable by up to 10 years?

but let's move on. 3-10 years is ridiculously, insanely harsh for leaking a song on the net, but sneaking a video camera into a movie theater is not a very defensible act. though 3-10 years is still mind-bogglingly harsh, even for that.

anyway, hollywood was dead-set against another provision of the bill: one that allows censorship technology inside dvd players. now, if you choose, it is totally legal to buy a dvd player that turns any dvd you want into the equivalent of pallies, edited for television... funk you, you mother-father!

[T]he bill is designed to nullify a lawsuit filed by eight movie studios and a directors' association against ClearPlay Inc., a small Utah technology startup that wants to sell home DVD players that can automatically filter objectionable material from prerecorded DVD movies.

Entrepreneurs were heartened by the bill's passage.

"It shouldn't be possible that big companies with big pockets can kill industries they don't like," said Bill Aho, ClearPlay's chief executive officer.

i'm a bit torn here. on one hand, it's almost impossible not to see this kind of thing as a blow against art. movies that are "edited for content" are truly the bane of film lovers everywhere, whether it's edited for television or whether the studios force the director to cut out content so it can earn a specific rating. you're not watching the real movie, but some limp, spayed version of it. so the practice, even the concept, of a self-censoring dvd player somewhat disgusts me. if you don't want to watch explicit content, it's easy: don't watch explicit content!

at the same time, legally i don't think there's any reason why such an item shouldn't be available. i totally agree with the bill aho quote above. the MPAA and pals are big bullies who try to smash anything they don't like. emasculating movies in this fashion might be somewhat offensive... it might be the utter desecration of the filmmaker's vision... but those aren't good legal reasons to hold back the tech. so hollywood resorts to the old "copyright violation" argument... using such a device creates a "derivative work" and only the author has the right to create derivative works. this is of course total bullshit, but it is also the way copyright law is defined these days. congress apparently didn't buy the bullshit this time. and they definitely didn't buy this bullshit, which is my nomination for "specious argument of the year":

"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, who authored the provision.

"Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use the equivalent electronic device that would protect their children from sex, violence and profanity in movies watched at home."

a censorship-enabled dvd player is "equivalent" to a remote control?!? congressman, dvd players already have a feature that is equivalent to a remote control. it's called a remote control.

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