On Wednesday of this week, President Bush signed ("privately, and without comment") the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA) -- a nefarious and sneaky little document that includes a possibly dangerous precedent about the legality of altering a film. Movie studios should be up in arms about this one, but (unsurprisingly) they've chosen to act in the best interest of their bottom line, rather than the concerns of many major directors.
So what's in FECA? Well, there is some good material in there -- it reauthorizes and expands the efforts of the National Film Preservation Board to include video, television, and digital formats, and to make the collected works more accessible for research and educational purposes. It also allows libraries to make copies of rare works that are no longer available in commercial form.
Then there's the questionable -- using a video camera in a movie theater is now an imprisonable offence. Interesting to note that 'fair use' rules do not apply here. If you are caught videotaping a film, you can get up to three years in prison, six if it is a second offence. While Filmbrain is against the illegal recording of films, the penalties do seem a tad harsh. On top of that, the bill provides immunity to theater owners, who are now allowed to "detain in a reasonable manner, and for a reasonable amount of time" anybody suspected of having recorded a film. (Isn't this a bit extreme in a bill that is primarily about copyright protection?) FECA also includes new punishments for people who distribute copies of pre-release material. A preregistration system for copyrighted works that aren't yet copyrighted is going to be created.
However, the scariest bit of the FECA is the Family Movie Act of 2005. This clears the way for companies that distribute self-edited versions of films (or technology that performs the same function) by making them exempt from trademark infringement. [See update note below.] What's truly evil about this is that many of the companies that do this sort of thing (ClearPlay, CleanFilms, CleanFlicks, FamilyFlix, etc.) are in the midst of lawsuits with several directors, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Sydney Pollack, and Curtis Hanson (to name a few) -- lawsuits that are now basically rendered useless by the passing of this act. It's interesting to note that the same technology, if used to remove commercials from recorded programs, is NOT covered by this act. (Six pages of the bill go into detail why editing films is good, but skipping commercials is the root of all evil.)
This goes beyond simple sanitization efforts to remove nudity and foul language. Look at some of their edits:
The Family Movie Act of 2005 is just more of Bush's pandering to the Christian right, and there really ought to be greater opposition to it. As usual, they hide behind the "FECA is about the children" banner, when in fact it's just another example of the administration attempting to legislate morality and values. (When asked why The Passion of the Christ isn't edited, Teraci commented that there was no need because "everyone has already seen it". Nuff said.)
Though the bill passed unanimously, there were some minority views written by the likes of John Conyers and Howard Berman that cover several issues, including the danger to artistic freedom and integrity, a position the lawyers for ClearPlay etc. took great pains to argue against. (Berman called FECA the "Profits for ClearPlay" legislation.) The entire report can be found HERE -- worth downloading if just to read these minority views.
Filmbrain wonders under what circumstances the Family Movie Act won't apply. Some years back, fans created their own edits of The Phantom Menace in an attempt to remove offensive material (read: Jar-Jar Binks). These were deemed in violation of copyright as they were considered derivative works. Yet the same rules no longer apply to these family friendly firms, and that's just hypocritical. Perhaps someone needs to challenge the bill by creating a service that filters everything out but the nudity, sex, violence, etc.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Are Soderbergh, Scorsese et. al. correct in decrying desecration? Should firms like ClearPlay be allowed to remove content they deem offensive? Can one person possibly speak to the values of all their customers? And what of the other parts of FECA? Is three years in prison too steep a sentence for somebody who uploads an as-yet-unreleased Eminem CD?
[Related link: NWA's groundbreaking album Straight Outta Compton, edited down to just the explicit content.]
[UPDATE: A closer reading of the bill reveals that the Family Movie Act was geared to benefit ClearPlay alone. Technology that "makes content imperceptible" is covered by the bill. Companies that sell or rent altered DVDs are not protected. Still, it puts an end to the outstanding litigation, a fact that ClearPlay boasts about on their site. Still, there is no question that the bill is a gift to the Christian right. One of the ClearPlay filters is "vain references to deity". Now why would a (supposedly) secular government create a bill to protect a for-profit corporation with a clear religious agenda? Remember, their initial claim was to remove sex, violence, and profanity. The bill does not place limitations on what they are allowed to filter. An ammendment put forth last year (H.R. 4586) by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to limit the filters to sex, violence, and profanity was defeated. (It's interesting to note that the studios offered to license the TV/airplane versions to ClearPlay, but ClearPlay still wanted the power to apply their own edits. Again, there is an agenda here.]