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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 April, 2004, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Coming soon: The smut-free DVD
Scene from The Graduate
Just as long as it goes no further
American cinephiles will soon be able to enjoy their movies without sex, violence, swearing - indeed, without any of the interesting bits.

Wal-Mart, the country's mightiest retailer, is preparing to ship a $79 DVD player that automatically strips out potentially offensive content.

The gadget, made by French-owned RCA, aims to tap into mounting concern in the US about media standards.

But the self-censoring technology has run into protests from Hollywood.

No sex, please

The RCA player is the first to incorporate the screening technology of Clearplay, a Salt Lake City-based company.

Many firms provide bowdlerised versions - not always legally - of Hollywood films, but Clearplay operates at a higher level of sophistication.

Clearplay scans movies for dodgy content, and then programs that data into its system.

Subscribers can then watch standard copies of the 500-or-so films on its list, with the assurance that they will automatically skip over mute anything that children or the squeamish may not like.

Until now, Clearplay has only run through a PC.

The naked truth

The launch of the new player, which RCA says was at Wal-Mart's urging, could hardly be better timed.

Ever since the singer Janet Jackson bared a breast during the SuperBowl, US regulators have been highly jumpy about what goes out over the airwaves.

"Increasingly it seems the media is not playing close to the line, but is outright leaping past the line and in fact daring the audience and daring the government to do anything about it," Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told a media seminar last month.

"Some of the transcripts I have been forced to read reveal content that is pure trash, plain and simple."

The FCC has fought shy of tougher state regulation, but has handed out some unprecedented indecency fines in recent months.

The same, but different

But Clearplay and its rivals face a challenge from the other direction.

A Hollywood consortium, including some of Tinseltown's top directors, has sued Clearplay and others, arguing that they are abusing the films' artistic integrity.

By producing - without permission - altered versions of intellectual property, censors are effectively pirating directors' and studios' work, the lawsuit argues.

Clearplay hopes to escape through a loophole: instead of making new versions of films, it argues, its technology is simply another way of playing the existing movie - no more an abuse than a viewer fast-forwarding a tape in his own home.

The case is pending, but RCA has decided to press ahead regardless.

US broadcasters fight indecency
02 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
Janet flash prompts new TV rules
31 Mar 04  |  Entertainment
US TV watchdog banishes swearing
19 Mar 04  |  Entertainment

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