Congressman Calls For ClearPlay Settlement

A powerful House committee chairman is pressing for a settlement between the Directors Guild of America and ClearPlay.

WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter)--A powerful House committee chairman is pressing for a settlement between the Directors Guild of America and ClearPlay.

ClearPlay offers technology that allows DVD players to skip over violence, nudity and other potentially objectionable content in movies.

In 2002, Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay was sued for copyright infringement in Colorado federal court by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and other members of the DGA. Back then, the filtering product was available only as a computer program.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., has instructed the committee's copyright panel to investigate the dispute between ClearPlay and the DGA, with a mid-May target for a hearing, according to Committee spokesman Jeff Lungren.

"Chairman Sensenbrenner would prefer the parties to reach agreement to thereby eliminate the need for Congress to act on this issue, but nontheless the chairman is prepared to have a hearing on it and is obviously closely monitoring the situation," Lungren says.

If the company and the directors refuse to settle their legal differences, then Sensenbrenner plans to introduce legislation that, if passed, would end the dispute.

The exact nature of Sensenbrenner's legislation is unclear, but the Judiciary Committee's action comes as the debate over indecent content aired on TV and radio rages in Washington.

The DGA says through its technology, ClearPlay is altering copyrighted artistic works without the permission of the rights holder. While the DGA refuses to comment on Sensenbrenner's plans, the organization has said that the ClearPlay device "edits movies to conform to ClearPlay's vision of a movie instead of letting audiences see, and judge for themselves, what writers wrote, what actors said and what directors envisioned."

"The public is well-served by the interest and involvement of Chairman Sensenbrenner, as well as Sub-Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Cannon," says ClearPlay CEO Bill Aho. "Both the DGA and the studios would like to make something work that is both good for families and acceptable to the movie industry."

Meanwhile, ClearPlay says its product doesn't violate copyright laws. Instead, it is analogous to the fast-forward, mute, skip and playback functions on a garden-variety DVD player.

The ClearPlay technology is built into a $79 DVD player from Thomson Inc.'s RCA brand and is available as a stand-alone program for computers.

ClearPlay's technology doesn't physically alter a DVD. Instead, it provides software-driven filters that change the way a movie is played on ClearPlay-enabled DVD players, automatically muting and skipping past scenes of violence, foul language, nudity and drug use, or any combination thereof, though only on selected titles.

Wal-Mart recently began selling the RCA-branded DVD player equipped with ClearPlay, which comes with filters for 100 movies, including "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "When Harry Met Sally ...." Filters for other movies are available at ClearPlay's Web site.

According to ClearPlay, at least four other major retailers will stock the RCA player by yearend.