BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. This week at Wal-Mart, a DVD player with a sense of morality -- Bill Bennett's sense of morality, to be precise. Using technology developed by a company called Clearplay the new RCA DVD player can automatically skip past scenes of nudity, violence, even drug use and must bad language. Or, if say, you like violence but find nudity distasteful, you can filter out whatever permutations of perversity suit you and your family best.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Not so fast, says the Director's Guild of America which has brought suit, claiming that the Clearplay technology illegally alters a copyrighted work of art without permission of the artist. Last week, Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner directed the committee's copyright panel to investigate, and there may be hearings on the matter before the month is out. Given the already overheated debate over indecency, we can only imagine what's in store. Back in 2002, when the Clearplay technology was available only as computer software, several DGA members, including Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese brought a copyright infringement suit. That's when we called Martha Coolidge, a director herself, and then president of the Director's Guild.
MARTHA COOLIDGE: It's great to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, defenders of the technology that we're talking about here liken it to getting some good advice from someone who's screened the movie before you and can tell you when to block the screen and what to skip. Would you be against it if it weren't actually technology but just a list of instructions blocking some scenes because of nudity and skipping certain scenes or even individual frames to excise bad language or blasphemies?
MARTHA COOLIDGE: But Brooke, wouldn't you have a problem if somebody was listening to your program and gave instructions as to how to fast-forward to skip over the part that you'd spent the entire interview working up to? What you're talking about is someone else who did not make the movie, who does not know the material as intimately as the filmmakers and the copyright holders do, making arbitrary decisions as to what they do and do not like for the viewer. The viewer never sees the material.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:There's always going to be a disparity between what the directors intend to give the audience and how the audience uses the films that are given to them. It seems as if you're trying to control the uncontrollable - how your films are perceived or even used.
MARTHA COOLIDGE: I think that it has to do with your creation and your property. We are a country based on protection of property. Directors make thousands and thousands and thousands of decisions regarding every aspect of a movie, and the idea that certain movies are simply inappropriate for certain age groups or certain people is accurate. Steven Spielberg made ET. That is appropriate for children. And he made Saving Private Ryan, which he said was not. The whole point of the movie was to be groundbreaking in its gritty depiction of war and reality, and the idea of someone else taking that movie, not Steven Spielberg, someone else taking that movie and chopping it up so that it's appropriate for children when it was never, never, never intended for children. And frankly, in my opinion, no matter how much you take out of the movie, the subject matter is not appropriate for children.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What we're talking about here is technology that gives people greater choice in tailoring entertainment, and that is what entertainment is tending toward. And one benefit that you can presumably draw from all of this is that the people who wouldn't want to see a movie with a nude scene in it, would go and see it if they had the opportunity to blank that nude scene out. Does the potential for a larger audience give you any satisfaction?
MARTHA COOLIDGE: Well, Brooke, you can look at it the other way. Imagine how many movies would have an increased audience if you put nude scenes in, and would you defend that too? Would you think that nude scenes could be provided on this new technology, which can provide it. It can dress Kate Winslet in the Titanic. Believe me, it can undress people in other movies. It is still an arbitrary decision made by someone based on what they believe. There are senseless alterations. There's the light-sabre version of Princess Bride. Whom does that benefit? [LAUGHTER] Who was offended by the swords? Is this not just the simple fact that it can be done? Therefore let's do it?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Martha Coolidge, thank you very much.
MARTHA COOLIDGE: Thank you very much for dealing with the issue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Martha Coolidge is a film and television director. She was the president of the Directors Guild of America from 2002 to 2003.