Monday, January 24, 2005

THE CLEARPLAY CONUNDRUM With a slew of new ClearPlay offerings on the horizon, it seems like an appropriate time to take another, broader look at the content filtering issue, and to think about where a resolution might be found.

First, let's review what's at stake: Content filter providers like ClearPlay invade and recalibrate the traditional relationship between creators and their works by bringing the judgment of an uninvited third party into the equation, essentially nullifying the protection from tampering that copyrighted works used to enjoy.

That, in a nutshell, is the threat.

But as I've argued previously, even if ClearPlay's business model is ultimately struck down by the courts, the filtering of content some viewers find objectionable is something that's probably here to stay.

So what is to be done?

For my money, the best solution for filmmakers and other creators--the solution that's most strategically savvy--would be for Hollywood to go ahead and beat ClearPlay at its own game: Studios should add edited versions of films to their DVDs--in much the same way they include director's cuts and foreign language audio tracks.

This might seem, at first glance, like surrender. But the fact is, studios regularly prepare PG-13 versions of films for network and basic cable TV: What kind of artistic compromise would be involved, then, in tacking these versions onto their home video releases?

Of course there are a (diminishing) number of movies of genuine artistic merit made in Hollywood each year, and studios (with the prodding of insistent filmmakers) ought to hold firm, refusing to create alternative versions of these films.

But by providing edited versions of the rest of its output, the industry would find itself in a much stronger position to defend a hard line when it comes to works of true merit.

At the same time, the inclusion of alternate PG-13 versions on DVDs would severely undermine the business models of ClearPlay and its imitators: Hollywood would once again find itself with just about total control of how its movies are seen.

It's not a perfect solution--intellectual property purists, in particular, may find it unsatisfying.

But if the retention of creative control for creators is what ultimately matters most, it seems like the most attractive solution available.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.