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Sen. Orrin Hatch Urges MPAA to Allow Filtering on Streaming Services

Variety logo Variety 6/22/2017 Gene Maddaus
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Sen. Orrin Hatch waded into the controversy around content filtering on Wednesday, writing a letter urging the MPAA to allow filtering on streaming services.

Hatch is the author of the 2005 Family Movie Act, which allowed users to filter out sex, violence, and foul language on DVD releases.

VidAngel, based in Provo, Utah, has argued that its streaming service should be permissible under that law. But three major studios — Disney, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox — have obtained an injunction to shut the service down. They argue that VidAngel’s service is not protected under the FMA, violates their copyrights, and competes unfairly with Netflix and other streaming services.

While the studios have been on a winning streak in court, Hatch’s salvo suggests that Congress may again intervene to allow family-friendly audiences to filter content. The letter notes that technology has advanced since 2005, and argues that the allowance for filtering should keep pace. Though Hatch does not threaten to pursue a legislative fix, Congress could update the FMA to explicitly condone filtered streaming if the studios do not first make some accommodation for it.

The letter was signed by Hatch and four of the five other members of Utah’s Congressional delegation: Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Mia Love, Rob Bishop, and Chris Stewart. It was addressed to MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd.

“We have heard from many constituents who are eager to use filtering technology with online streaming,” they wrote. “We understand that there are outstanding legal disputes over whether the business models such filtering services employ fall within the bounds of the FMA. We do not wish to wade into such disputes, but do wish to express to you our strong desire that consumers be able to have access to effective online filtering technology consistent with the FMA and other applicable laws. We would hope that such technology could ultimately become available across multiple devices and multiple streaming services.”

In a separate statement, Hatch said he is looking for “a way for everyone to win on this issue.”

“I believe that families should have the choice to screen out profanity, violence, and other objectionable content from movies and television shows if they want to,” he said. “At the same time, it’s essential that we protect content creators’ intellectual property rights.”

VidAngel recently launched a new service that filters content on Netflix and Amazon, though it does not offer content from any of the three plaintiff studios. Netflix has stated that the service is unauthorized, but has not indicated whether it will move to shut it down.

The MPAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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