Who Controls My Movies


If you read or listen to the first chapter in Larry Lessig's newest book Free Culture, you'll quickly realize that Lessig believes that society is damaged when our right (and yes, maligned as it is, it is a right) to rip, remix and burn content is diminished. In today's Deseret News, there was an article about one of our local companies, ClearPlay, that brought Lessig to mind.

I first ran into ClearPlay three years ago when they were seeking initial venture funding. Their technology is simple in concept: skip frames of a DVD while its playing according to the instructions in another file. With this you can delete scenes from a movie you may not want to see, delete commercials or other content from a program you've recorded on DVD, or even mix frames from multiple DVDs playing back simultaneously. The most obvious use for the technology, of course, is editing films to delete offensive scenes. Note that the technology doesn't modify the disk in anyway. It simply decides which portions of the disc will play back when.

Well, despite lawsuits from the film industry, the Director's Guild and others, ClearPlay technology will be offered in a player manufactured by RCA and sold in Wal-Mart and K-Mart. The Director's Guild had the following to say:

In the guise of making films 'family-friendly,' ClearPlay seeks to make whatever 'edits' they see fit to any material they don't like," the group said in a prepared statement. "By not seeking the consent of the director, whose name on the movie reflects the fact that the film comprises his or her work, or of the studio as copyright holder, they can and do change the very meaning and intent of films."
From deseretnews.com | Retailers to offer DVD film filters
Referenced Fri Apr 16 2004 08:42:19 GMT-0600

Just so I've got this straight, let me read this back. I go to the store and pay $30 for a DVD and place it in a player. I don't modify the DVD, I simply play it back in a different way than it was placed on the DVD. The Director's Guild thinks I shouldn't be able to do that because I am messing with the "intent" of the director. I guess that the "random" button on my CD player ought to be illegal as well then since I'm clearly changing the intent of whoever laid out the tracks on the CD by playing them back in a different order. If this isn't about the clearest example of hubris then I don't know what is.

This may seem different than the complaints of the music industry, but its not. The foundational argument is who gets to control content and to what end. Consumers want to be able to do anything they like with the content they've purchased and Hollywood and the music industry and trying desperately to force us to take it there way. The ClearPlay case illustrates that the nature of this entire debate isn't about the theft of intellectual property so much as the ability to do as we please with the things we buy.