DGA, studios take a pass

Reps won't attend legal talks for editing technology

WASHINGTON — Industry reps have bowed out of a congressional hearing skedded for today that would explore the right of businesses to sell software products that edit sex and violence out of movies.

The studios and Directors Guild of America argue that the sanitized versions misrepresent directors’ work by creating new versions of films without their authorization.

While they’ve fought the technology in court for the last few years, the studios and DGA decided not to send reps up to Capitol Hill to testify when they discovered that the hearing would focus on ongoing legal negotiations between the two sides and feature lopsided testimony from three witnesses on the other side of the issue.

The original witness list released by the House Judiciary Subcommittee included Bill Aho, president of ClearPlay (one of the companies involved fighting for the right to sell its product), Joanne Cantro, a U. of Wisconsin professor critical of sex and violence in the media, and Jeff McIntyre, a senior legislative official at the American Psychological Assn.

A list sent out late Wednesday included Marjorie Hines, a fellow at NYU Law School and a founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project, who plans to argue for the protection of creative works.

The DGA had agreed to send a representative to the hearing when it believed the hearing would focus on broad policy issues relating to copyright protection and feature testimony from both sides of the issue.

Panel nixed MPAA rep

Committee staffers also told guild reps that at least one studio would send a witness. When the studios declined to do so over antitrust concerns and fear that testifying could poison the ongoing legal negotiations, the Motion Picture Assn. of America stepped in and offered to send an official to testify on the studios’ behalf. The House committee rejected the MPAA’s offer, according to the DGA and knowledgeable sources.

“In light of the new realities, combined with the ongoing settlement discussions with these parties, the Directors Guild concluded it would not be appropriate to have a representative testify at this hearing,” the guild said in a statement.

The DGA will, however, submit a written statement to the committee for the record.

A House Judiciary spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the panel holding the hearing, is a social conservative who appears to have already taken sides on the issue, linking it to the antismut crusade that erupted in Washington after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl.

“Parents and Congress are increasingly concerned about the level of violence and other objectionable material in movies, with parents wanting to watch a wide selection of sanitized movies with their children,” a release from Smith’s office said.

Rights at stake

In the DGA’s written testimony, director Taylor Hackford argues that the current law should protect the rights of directors and studios to prevent their work from being altered without their input. Instead of the new sanitizing software, parents should use the current TV and movie ratings systems to guide their children’s viewing habits.

“We want to share with the subcommittee our great concern about giving someone the legal ability to alter, in any way they choose, for any purpose, and for profit, the content of a film that we have made, which carries our name, and which is associated with one of us,” Hackford said in the testimony.