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New Home Movie Player Can Edit 'Objectionable' Content - 2004-06-29

A new video technology gives viewers the ability to delete objectionable material from films they watch at home. VOA's Andrew Baroch reports on a new DVD (digital video disk) player that's delighting families but raising concerns in Hollywood about censorship and artistic control.

Lee Ann Price of Springfield, Illinois, like many Americans, prefers watching movies at home rather than in the theater. She and her husband can relax in their living room with their two small children and see films on their high-quality DVD player, but not if the movie contains offensive material.

"Usually, if it's something that's graphic, then the kids are in bed before we watch anything like that," she says.

But Mrs. Price would be able to play that movie in front of her children if she had a new kind of video player now on sale in the United States. It can delete the kind of graphic violence, sexual images and objectionable dialogue that many parents don't want their kids exposed to.

"I think it would be a good thing to have for the kids and to just help us out a little bit more as parents."

An American company called ClearPlay has developed computer software that, when loaded into a DVD player, permits the user to select from a range of pre-set editing options. RCA recently started selling these players, which are programmed to edit as many as 600 of the most popular DVD-movies sold or rented in the United States.

"You go buy a DVD player that has the ClearPlay feature. You may say you want to filter out certain kinds of violence, language or sex and nudity. You make those decisions. Then when the movie plays, it will seamlessly skip over the content you wanted skipped," says ClearPlay Chairman Bill Aho.

A DVD machine with ClearPlay is equipped to edit out all nudity, vulgar language, sex scenes, and violence or just some of those, or none at all.

"Somebody may use a profanity," he explains. "And we [later] mute the profanity. In some cases, we might skip a line or small segment of a scene. In all cases, at the end of the day, the experience is very positive for consumers. You can watch the movie without ClearPlay or you can watch the movie with ClearPlay, that's your choice."

Bill Aho says that ClearPlay editing does not affect the story line or integrity of the movies, but directors who made those movies disagree. They've sued the ClearPlay company. The Directors Guild of America says the company wrongfully profits from technology that radically changes movies.

Joan Bertin is the executive director of the National Coalition against Censorship, a non-profit organization that defends artistic freedom. Ms. Bertin says that the new technology is not censorship, because it's not government-mandated.

"People are free not to buy it, not to use it," she says.

However, Joan Bertin is worried about Clearplay.

"Once the technology exists, the temptation to mandate it becomes that much greater," she adds. "I could easily anticipate there will be school districts that require when films are shown in the classroom or school setting that some of this technology would be used. That would be very disturbing. That would be an imposition of one set of values on all of the children in that school."

But ClearPlay chairman Bill Aho denies his company presents a threat to artistic freedom, in general or Hollywood, in particular. He says Hollywood will actually benefit from ClearPlay-enabled DVD players. As Mr. Aho sees it, viewers will buy more movies on DVD, including the ones they find objectionable now that they have the editing technology at home.