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Committee Markup Statement on the Family Movie Act

Location: Washington, DC

Committee Markup Statement on the Family Movie Act

We are here today to determine whether parents have the right to decide what their children watch on screen in the privacy of their own home. Specifically, do parents have a right to protect their children from sex, violence, and profanity in movies?

These days, I don't think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn't come with a remote control. Yet, there are some who would deny parents the right to use the equivalent electronic device that would protect their children from offensive material on television.

Raising children may be the toughest job in the world. Parents need all the help they can get. And they should be able to determine what their children see on the screen.

Yes, we parents might mute dialogue that others deem crucial or we might fast forward over scenes that others consider essential. But that's irrelevant. Parents should be able to mute or skip over anything they want if they feel it's in the best interests of their children.

And, as a practical matter, parents cannot monitor their children's viewing habits all the time.

If you look at a DVD or a VCR before and after technology has been used to mute or fast forward over offensive material, there would be absolutely no difference in the product. It has not been sliced, diced, mutilated, or altered. The director's work is still intact; no unauthorized copies have been distributed; no copyright has been violated.

Some have said that the recent decision by RCA to stop selling one brand of family friendly technology is a sign that this legislation should not proceed. This issue has never been about one company or one technology. It has always been about the ultimate rights of parents to limit the profanity, sex, and violence that their children are exposed to in the privacy of their own home.

Eight weeks ago this Committee held an oversight hearing in which researchers testified about the adverse impact of sex, violence, and profanity on children.

At a subsequent legislative hearing, the Register of Copyrights testified that skipping of content was legal under the law.

Most recently, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Ashcroft v. ACLU concerning the Children's Online Protection Act. The majority opinion noted at length their preference for private sector filters to protect children from objectionable content on the Internet. Two quotes from the majority opinion are noteworthy:

"Filters are less restrictive than the Children's Online Protection Act. They impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source. … Above all, promoting the use of filters does not condemn as criminal any category of speech, and so the potential chilling effect is eliminated, or at least much diminished."

The majority then added:

"By enacting programs to promote use of filtering software, Congress could give parents that ability without subjecting protected speech to severe penalties."

Just as the author of a book should not be able to force me to read that book in any particular manner or order, a studio or director should not be able to force me or my children to watch a movie in a particular way. No one can argue with a straight face that it should be against the law to skip over a few pages or even entire chapters of a book. So, too, it should not be illegal to skip over a few words or scenes in a movie.

One criticism is that no one forces parents to make their children watch objectionable movies. However, popular movies are used as homework assignments for middle and high schools across America. So, parents sometimes are forced to allow their children to watch a movie in the privacy of their own home even though the movies contain objectionable content.

However, the criticism itself is a red herring. Parents should have the right to show any movie they want and to skip or mute over any content they find objectionable.

The Family Movie Act ensures that parents have such rights.

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