Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Companies that clean up Hollywood films for family viewing told a congressional panel yesterday that consumers want edited movies, and they should be allowed to watch them despite objections from the film industry.

The hearing, which took place before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, featured testimony from ClearPlay Inc., a provider of editing technology, and CleanFlicks Media Inc., which was forced out of business this past summer when a judge ruled that providing edited copies of movies violates copyright law.

Both companies lamented what they described as increasingly gratuitous sex, violence and adult language in Hollywood films and argued that parents need a solution so their children can watch popular movies without being exposed to objectionable content.

“The issue is whether families should have a choice in the content they wish to have in their homes and, if so, how to provide it,” said CleanFlicks President Allan L. Erb, who criticized Hollywood studios for not publicly releasing edited versions of movies shown on airplanes or on major broadcast networks. “Why is the editor’s cut readily available to those who want it while the edited cut is hardly available to the millions of parents and families who want it?”

CleanFlicks, of Pleasant Grove, Utah, went out of business this past summer after a Colorado district judge ruled that edited movies are “derivative works” and thus infringe filmmakers’ copyright.

ClearPlay, however, remains legal under the Family Movie Act of 2005, and the Salt Lake City company provides consumers with editing technology for home use, along with filters tailored to about 2,000 movies. In passing the act, lawmakers considered protection for companies that make edited films, such as CleanFlicks, but opted not to include any provision for them.

As a result of the CleanFlicks ruling, ClearPlay is the only legally sanctioned distributor of technologies that enable parents to edit films.

Film industry representatives told lawmakers yesterday that family editing was either unnecessary or an affront to artistic expression.

John Feehery, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, said Hollywood studios give parents plenty of options and read a list of several family friendly films opening later this year.

“There are many, many movies being made that are appropriate for viewing by the entire family,” he said.

Of those films rated by the MPAA, about 4 percent have a G rating, 11 percent are rated PG, 23 percent are PG-13 and 62 percent are rated R, Mr. Feehery said.

Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, a trade group representing actors, writers, producers and directors, defended vulgarity in films.

“Movies are an American art form; it’s not just another business,” said Ms. Bronk, adding that unauthorized editing undermines a filmmaker’s “unique story.”

“For many artists, including material that some may find objectionable is essential to telling their story or making a story believable to an audience,” she said.

Bill Aho, chief executive officer of ClearPlay, acknowledged the unwillingness of directors to have their movies edited, but said it can be done without compromising a film’s message.

“We’re not taking the heart out of the movie,” he said. “If we take the heart out of the movie, we’ll go out of business.”

While the hearing was not tied to any pending congressional action, Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the panel, said he hoped the two sides can find a “common ground.”

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