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Bush Signs DVD 'Sanitizing' Bill

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CBS/AP
President Bush on Wednesday signed legislation aimed at helping parents keep their children from seeing sex scenes, violence and foul language in movie DVDs.

The bill gives legal protections to the fledgling filtering technology that helps parents automatically skip or mute sections of commercial movie DVDs. Mr. Bush signed it privately and without comment, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

The legislation came about because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the manufacture and distribution of such electronic devices for DVD players. The movies' creators had argued that changing the content — even when it is considered offensive — would violate their copyrights.

The legislation, called the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, creates an exemption in copyright laws to make sure companies selling filtering technology won't get sued out of existence.

The House passed it Tuesday on a voice vote. The Senate passed it in February.

Critics of the bill have argued it was aimed at helping one company, Utah-based ClearPlay Inc., whose technology is used in some DVD players. ClearPlay sells filters for hundreds of movies that can be added to such DVD players for $4.95 each month. Hollywood executives maintain that ClearPlay should pay them licensing fees for altering their creative efforts.

Unlike ClearPlay, some other companies produce edited DVD copies of popular movies and sell them directly to consumers.

In a nod to the studios, the legislation contains crackdowns on copyright infringement by explicitly providing no legal protections for those companies that sell copies of the edited movies. The bill makes it a federal crime to use video cameras to record films in movie theaters, and sets tough penalties of up to 10 years in prison for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release.

"Imagine the frustration of spending months or even years working on an album only to have those carefully crafted plans usurped by an eleventh-hour theft," said Mitch Bainwol, chief executive for the Recording Industry Association of America.

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.

More than 90 percent of pirated movies are recorded by people in the audience with a camcorder, said Dan Glickman, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

"Video theft hurts taxpayers, it hurts consumers, it hurts the creative process and it hurts the hundreds of thousands of people who work hard each day to make the magic of the movies," said Glickman, whose son is a producer.

The legislation also reauthorizes a Library of Congress program dedicated to saving rare, culturally significant works, such as home movies, silent-era films and other works that are unlikely to be protected by the big studios.

The bill's most controversial provision focuses on new filtering technology.

The author of the provision, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, compared a parent's freedom to skip violent movie scenes to skipping offensive passages in a book. That section of the bill was rewritten to explicitly provide no legal protections for companies that sell copies of edited movies.

"It lets parents decide for themselves what children see and hear on television," Smith said. "Raising children may be the toughest job in the world. Parents need all the help they can get."

Some lawmakers said they objected to the filtering provision but voted to approve the bill because of the crackdown on copyright infringement in other parts of the legislation.

"The intent of the movie-filtering technology is to sanitize movies to protect children," said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif. "While I support family-friendly entertainment, I believe this method is not only a violation of filmmakers' copyright protections but also an infringement of their artistic vision."