Congress closer to camcord ban

WASHINGTON — Thanks to a vote Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Hollywood is one small step closer to seeing the camcording of a film declared a federal crime.

The same vote offset this small victory, however, by pushing DVD technology that censors “objectionable” content from films.

The House Judiciary Committee was mulling a package of bills that had already been approved by the full Senate. The package, dubbed the Family Entertainment & Copyright Act and originally introduced in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), comprises four separate intellectual-property bills remaining from the previous Congress.

One of the bills, the Artists’ Rights & Theft Prevention (Art) Act, was co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Bill increases penalties for illegal distribution of copyrighted works before they are released. It also establishes a means by which copyright owners may be compensated for their losses. Most significantly, however, the Art Act would make it a federal crime to camcord a film as it screens in a theater. MPAA prexy Dan Glickman has often called the Art Act a valuable tool in combating Internet piracy of movies.

Directors irked

However, the package of bills also includes the Family Movie Act, legislation aimed at permitting use of filtering technology that would skip or mute content that may be objectionable to certain viewers when watching a DVD movie at home. Studios had claimed the FMA creates the potential for copyright infringement. Hollywood directors, in particular, have objected to having their films cut and altered by such companies as Utah-based ClearPlay, which excises potentially objectionable scenes and shots from films.

Studios also objected because filtering technology could be used to skip over commercials inserted on DVD movies. An earlier version of the FMA barred use of filtering technology for that purpose. The current version of the bill makes no mention of such a ban, and it makes clear the technology can be used so long as no fixed copy of the edited work is made.

Still, some members of Congress, including Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), continue to oppose the Family Movie Act.

Profitable censorship

“The FMA merely gives for-profit companies the right to commercially exploit the copyrights and trademarks of moviemakers without fear of liability,” Berman said in a statement. “It allows those for-profit companies to make editorial decisions about movies without the input of their creators and to market products containing those decisions to anyone, parents or otherwise.”

On Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California announced the appointment of Berman as chief liaison between the House Democratic Caucus and the entertainment industry.

The film industry has sued ClearPlay. If the FMA becomes law, that suit will be voided.

The two other bills in the package are the National Film Preservation Act and the Preservation of Orphan Works Act. The House Judiciary Committee’s vote now clears the way for a full House consideration of the package. That could occur as early as next week.

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