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President Bush last week signed legislation that gives legal protection to content filtering technology that enables skipping or muting of sections of commercial movie DVDs. The enactment of the law was a major defeat for film directors who argued that enabling the manipulation of their content violated copyright protections.

The legislation swept through Congress as part of the political fervor over indecency in the media. The legislation was positioned at helping parents keep their children from seeing sex scenes, violence and foul language in movie DVDs.

Called the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, the new law creates an exemption in copyright laws to make sure companies selling filtering technology won’t get sued out of existence. Critics of the bill have argued it was aimed at helping one company, Utah-based ClearPlay, whose technology is used in some DVD players, Wired News reported.

ClearPlay sells filters for hundreds of movies that can be added to DVD players for $4.95 each month. Hollywood executives maintain that ClearPlay should pay them licensing fees for altering their creative efforts.

The legislation was necessary because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the manufacture and distribution of such electronic filtering devices for DVD players. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content — even when it is considered offensive — would violate their copyrights.

Unlike ClearPlay, some other companies produce edited DVD copies of popular movies and sell them directly to consumers. In a nod to the studios, the legislation provides no legal protections for those companies that sell copies of the edited movies.

It also creates new penalties for people who use small video cameras to record copies of first-run films in movie theaters, and sets tough penalties for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release.

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