Copyright Tug of War

By Duncan, Dan | Information Today, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

Copyright Tug of War


Duncan, Dan, Information Today


Over Memorial Day weekend, Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith turned around an otherwise lackluster year for the film industry. Yet, just as the movie moguls basked in new triumph, they continued to sound alarms over how technology has increased the threat of piracy.

Almost every legal and policy debate about copyright seems to be centered on technology and piracy. In last month's issue, I noted that the copyright community-both owners and users-has been holding its collective breath while refining lobbying strategies in anticipation of the Supreme Court's decision about the legality of P2P networks. But other developments in Congress and the courts have already defined the copyright-technology matrix that is sending shivers down the spines of Hollywood producers and directors while renewing their resolve to battle how we access and use copyrighted works.

Last April, Congress passed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 (S. 167), an amalgam of three bills from previous Congresses. Title I of the bill sets out criminal penalties for recording motion pictures in a movie theater, and Title III reauthorizes the National Film Preservation Board. Title II, the Family Movie Act of 2005, however, establishes new standards for exempting content-altering technologies from infringement.

The Threat of New Technology

The act arose in response to the case of Huntsman v. Soderbergh, which was filed in 2002 and is apparently still pending before the U.S. District Court for Colorado. The case involves technology companies that manufacture and market filtering technologies for consumers to eliminate objectionable content (violence, profanity, and nudity) from DVDs viewed at home. These technological devices, such as ClearPlay, alter what viewers see when they play a disc on a DVD player or DVDROM drive. Each software program corresponds to a specific DVD that has been reviewed by ClearPlay, and the filter instructs the player which film frames to mute or skip over without altering the content of the DVD.

The movie studios say these technologies violate their exclusive right to create derivative works. Directors claim the devices violate their moral rights to control the artistic integrity of their works-a concept more prevalent in European law than in the U.S. and one that remains contentious for reciprocal copyright protections.

The new act effectively makes the Colorado case moot. It states that neither individuals nor software manufacturers are liable for copyright infringement if no permanent copy of the filtered movie is created. Similarly, the technology companies cannot be held liable for violating any moral rights as long as they clearly indicate before each viewing that the movie has been altered. …

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