Bill to Strip Sex From Movies Inches Forward

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a decision that embraces the promises of technology, lawmakers Wednesday voted in favor of a bill allowing filters to comb out sex and obscene material in films.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee voted 18-9 in favor of the Family Movie Act, which would assure manufacturers of DVD players and other devices using such technology that they would not be violating copyrights of the mainstream producers of movies.

The vote follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that said there may have been important technological advances in the five years since a U.S. judge blocked a law said to represent “a serious chill upon protected speech"

That ruling on the Child Online Protection Act helped the online adult industry escape a potential punishing blow as U.S. justices ruled that a law meant to punish pornographers who peddle adult material to web-surfing kids is probably an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.

In the Family Movie Act, movie executives have complained that the technology — created by Salt Lake City, Utah-based ClearPlay Inc. — represents unauthorized editing of their movies. Hollywood officials maintain that ClearPlay should pay them licensing fees for altering their creative efforts.

Critics also argued that the Family Movie Act is aimed at helping ClearPlay, whose technology is used in some DVD players to help parents filter inappropriate material by muting dialogue or skipping scenes. The company sells filters for hundreds of movies that can be added to DVD players for $4.95 each month.

"Parents should have a right to show any movie they want and skip or mute any content they find objectionable," said the bill’s author Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, whose said the legislation guarantees that parents will be free to use technology to protect what children watch.

Smith compared skipping objectionable scenes in a movie to skipping paragraphs in a book.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said he is concerned that the same technology could be adapted to automatically remove commercials from cable and network television programs.

He also said the bill "gives for-profit companies the right to commercially exploit the copyrights of movies without input from creators."

The full House still must approve the Family Movie Act, which is House Resolution 4586.