How Movie Filtering Fits with the Constitution

Deseret News (Salt Lake City), November 12, 2017 | Go to article overview

How Movie Filtering Fits with the Constitution


By Matthew Jarman

The industry of movie filtering, if it can be called an industry, has had many twists and turns these last two decades. Arguments for and against filtering have played out in courts, on social media and in hundreds, if not thousands, of meetings I have personally attended.

Misunderstandings abound. Questions around the morality and the legality of filtering get meshed together. Resulting answers often seem inconsistent, or at least head-scratching.

Amid these discussions, there are a few areas of understanding I would like to share:

There are illegal and legal ways to filter movies.

It goes back to the U.S. Constitution. While our Founding Fathers could have scarcely imagined the various types of content that would be produced in the 21st century, or the many ways that content would be distributed and transmitted into our homes, the principles contained in the intellectual property paragraph of the Constitution still hold true. Specifically, Congress shall have the power of "securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

The economic incentive of securing exclusive rights for intellectual property holders is profound. The positive impact of this incentive, and its effect over the last 200 years, cannot be overstated.

Authors (and content creators in general) are afforded the ability to maximize the value of their content in whatever ways they see fit. However, given this exclusive right, is there legal room for filtering?

At the heart of copyright law is the protection against the making of unauthorized copies. This protection fits squarely within the constitutional goal of "securing" to copyright holders their "exclusive right" to the embodiments of their content. Filtering of movies must still be done within the bounds of these exclusive rights.

Legal filtering works with authorized copies.

The copyright holder has the right to authorize the making of copies. This is true whether copies are being made onto DVD and Blu-ray discs or copies are being made onto a streaming server that can stream the movie into your home.

For example, when a company like Amazon streams a movie to your home, it streams that content from a copy on Amazon's video servers. Amazon has licensed this movie and as part of its agreement has obtained authorization to have a master copy of the movie on its servers.

Filtering needs to work directly with these authorized copies. …

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