Poison pill in antipiracy bill

WASHINGTON — Just when Hollywood was ready to celebrate its latest legislative victory in the war on piracy, House conservatives inserted a little plot twist.

In a surprise move, the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday added legislation allowing the filtering from movies of sex, violence and profanity to a popular antipiracy bill.

The antipiracy legislation would impose stiff criminal penalties on copyright infringers who pirate pre-release music and movies; it also would make the use of camcorders in theaters a felony. A version containing similar camcorder language passed the Senate in July and the two houses were expected to reconcile any differences and quickly move the bill to the president’s desk before the end of the year.

But with the filtering provision lumped in, Hollywood is now in a bind.

The bill in question, dubbed the Family Movie Act and sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is an attempt to address a lawsuit by the seven major studios and the Directors Guild of America against ClearPlay, one of several companies manufacturing and selling the DVD filtering services. Directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh are adamantly opposed to the technology, arguing it treads on their creative rights and destroys the integrity of films.

During two fiery hearings on the topic, conservative House Republicans maintained the technology gives parents more entertainment choices for their children, while Democratic showbiz allies accused Smith and company of meddling in a private settlement negotiation.

The MPAA released a statement reacting to the turn of events, noting the studios are “heartened” by the antipiracy provisions but disappointed by the decision to attach the Family Movie Act.

“We believe the act represents an unwarranted intrusion into an ongoing business and legal dispute …,” the statement said.

There’s no word yet on how Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will respond; spokeswoman Margarita Tapia did not immediately respond to a question about her boss’ plans.

The ClearPlay bill has Hatch in the hot seat. Although Hatch is a strict Mormon and hails from a socially conservative state, he is usually a reliable entertainment industry ally.

But ClearPlay is a Utah-based company and Hatch normally would want to step in to help out his constituents. When asked if he had plans to move his own version of the Family Movie Act earlier this year, Hatch would say only that he’s considering it.

One showbiz lobbyist suggested the Senate could simply take up the House’s broad new bill, dispense with any committee action and pass it. But with the legislative calendar so tight this year, one GOP source said the bill could fall by the wayside and have to be revived next year.

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