Continuing on the government as nanny theme from yesterday, the House is currently considering the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, a bill passed last month by the Senate. Like so many things in our Orwellian society, the name really doesn’t describe the intention of the law.
The act writes into the law the legality of software and devices that will censor "objectionable scenes" from popular DVDs. To work, information about the movie is stored in the player and it can be updated with new titles. Of course, this means someone at the company selling the service makes decisions as to what is "objectionable". And, as you might expect, some people in the movie business object to this kind of technology as violating their copyright.
Considering the movies they’ve tried to censor (how can you possibly cleanse "The Birdcage" for the Jerry Fallwell set?), this particular device is rather stupid. However, I actually find myself agreeing with the conservatives on this particular issue.
"Just as the author of a book should not be able to force someone to read that book in any particular manner or order, a studio or director should not be able to force parents or their children to watch a movie in a particular way," said bill sponsor and subcommittee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
Freedom to use the media you’ve purchased in any way you like – what a good idea! If parents want to use this device to limit what their children can view, then let them have it. However, I should have similar rights to any media that I purchase. If I buy a DVD, CD, or a download file I should be able to move it around, chop it up and rearrange the pieces any way I like.
Of course, the big media companies don’t like that idea at all. They have several bills waiting for their pet Congress to consider, all of which would severely restrict what consumers can do with the media they buy. Despite this particular silliness, which actually reinforces the rights of consumers, it’s not the start of a trend. Coming soon to the Congressional multiplex will be this year’s attempts to slice and dice your ability to exercise the fair use provisions of the copyright law. The titles, however, will probably not fit the content.