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Family Room

ClearPlay’s Attempt to Clean Up Hollywood

Is ClearPlay your attempt to clean up entertainment?
People love movies. They’re an important part of our culture. But often there’s content in them that makes us uncomfortable, particularly with the whole family viewing together. How many times have you heard somebody say, "It was a great movie except for …" And how many times have you sat around with your kids watching a DVD, and everybody winces when that one little scene comes on, or a couple of those words slip through? We thought people ought to be able to watch movies in their living rooms without that kind of discomfort.

Is it fairly easy to use?
We give you a little USB filter stick that goes in your computer. With one click of the mouse, you download all the filters. Then just put it in your DVD player and you’re ready to go. It’ll hold your settings from film to film until you change them.

Did passage of the 2005 Family Movie Act legitimize the ClearPlay concept?
That was tremendous news for ClearPlay, and a real victory for families. That legislation confirmed what we’ve always felt: It’s acceptable for families in the privacy of their homes to skip or mute extreme violence, sex, nudity or language with the help of technology that lets you preprogram a regular DVD to your personal tastes. We give parents over 16,000 possible permutations for any given movie, so the filter settings are very adaptable.

Is it true that now you’re filtering some television shows, too?
We’ve done quite a few: Lost, Scrubs, 24, Heroes, The Sopranos and the first three seasons of The Office. There are more coming all the time. We try to do the most popular TV series that are available on DVD.

Creative people don’t like to see their work tampered with. Did the studios and their lawyers try to stop you?
Hollywood decided to sue everybody in [our] industry. When we talked to the studios, they all felt the same way—that the idea of making copies of movies and selling them in a jacket with a little E for editing was not something they were comfortable with. Of course, that wasn’t our approach. The directors didn’t like what we were doing either, but they all recognized that ClearPlay is different, because the editing happens in your home. It’s like a magical remote control. So we took that to the courts and urged them to treat us and think about us very differently.

Differently than, say, an editing service that physically alters the actual video or DVD?
That’s right. ClearPlay does not create a separate version any more than I create a new song when I listen to a CD with my own equalizer settings. The courts agreed, so they gave it a closer look. At the same time, we went to Washington and talked to our senators and congressmen and asked, "Shouldn’t there be some relief on this? Isn’t this simply a case where the copyright law has not kept pace with technology?" That happens all the time. And they agreed. They said the copyright law shouldn’t outlaw something like this, and in fact they didn’t think that it did. So they said, "Let’s clarify the copyright act." They re-wrote the law to create the Family Movie Act, and the President signed it. The judge said, "Well, I guess that takes care of ClearPlay," and threw out all claims against us. We haven’t had any problems with Hollywood since.

What about companies that do alter films?
The courts turned their attention toward those groups and ruled against the practice of physically editing movies. That change in the law forced CleanFlicks out of business, though less reputable companies are still out there making copies of DVDs, hoping they don’t get caught.

Can you tell us about the process your staff goes through when cleaning up a movie or TV show?
We have a team of six filter developers. We also have a QA department for quality assurance. Once we create a filter, we run it through QA, and they look at a lot of areas to make sure we caught everything. They also check to see that it’s smooth. Was it the kind of [cut] that, in most cases, the customer won’t even notice? Finally, did we do a good job artistically? Did it all make sense? Was the integrity of the storyline maintained, and was it an enjoyable viewing experience? Often it will go through QA and we’ll run it through filter development again, making changes until we have a product we feel people are really going to enjoy.

Are there films you won’t edit?
If a film is so content-laden that we can’t do a very good job and produce a smooth, satisfactory experience, then we won’t do it. It really is an art. People think [the result] is going to be jumpy or choppy, but then they watch it and go, "Wow!" That’s what we’re after.

Published March 2008

Plugged In Plus
Focus on the Family has since formed an alliance with ClearPlay in order to make this service more accessible to parents. For additional information, visit Clearplay.