ENID, Okla. — Editor’s note: This column was originally published Nov. 19, 2004.
“I don’t mind what Congress does, as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses.” — Victor Hugo.
Just when you thought the government couldn’t possibly intrude any further into the lives of ordinary citizens, it happens.
One of the provisions of copyright legislation pending in Congress, ostensibly designed to keep people from illegally downloading movies and music over the Internet, is known as the Family Movie Act.
It sounds harmless enough, but if enacted into law, the measure could make it illegal for people viewing DVDs in their own homes to fast-forward through the commercials and movie previews at the beginning of each film.
The law originally was designed to prevent DVD makers from developing devices that would automatically skip over commercials and previews, but it is apparently worded so loosely that it could target home viewers, turning anyone with an itchy remote finger into a criminal.
Imagine this scene. Your kids have popped their copy of “Shrek 2” into the DVD player for the 498th time this month. So you, to spare yourself having to watch the same commercials and previews you have seen so often you’ve practically committed them to memory, grab the remote and fast-forward to the start of the movie itself.
Suddenly the door bursts in and officers in riot gear begin streaming into your home. One handcuffs you, another rounds up the kids and yet another ejects the DVD from the player. A fourth grabs the bowl of popcorn from the coffee table, just for evidence, of course.
Ridiculous? Of course. Something that will never happen? We can only hope. Level-headed members of Congress, like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are trying to block the legislation, but others, like Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, are pushing for it.
If this measure should become law, imagine the implications. The next step could be a law making it illegal to fast-forward through commercials when you are watching tapes of your favorite shows.
That’s actually something at which I’m particularly poor. Inevitably, when my wife and I are watching a taped TV program, we will be halfway through a commercial when she’ll say, “Why are we watching this?”
I will rouse from my semi-slumber, startle the cats by groping blindly for the remote and turn off the VCR by mistake. Then I’ll turn it back on with a mumbled apology and fast-forward through the rest of the ads.
But someday, zapping commercials could bring a knock at the door from the copyright police. If the punishment comes in the form of fines, the national debt will be eliminated in a week, maybe quicker during a ratings sweeps period.
If breaking the no-zapping law results in jail time, we’ll need to build a jail the size of South Dakota.
The next step is almost unthinkable. If this madness progresses, it will someday be illegal to leave the room during commercials, whether to go to the kitchen for a snack or to go to the bathroom, for, well, you know.
There will be no more spending commercial time in the loo, or in the kitchen putting together a ham, pickle and grape jelly sandwich, on toast. Should this become the law of the land, televisions will become bathroom fixtures only slightly less important than the porcelain throne itself.
I, for one, won’t stand for it. I will rebel. Of course, I am a veteran scofflaw. I don’t even blink an eye when I tear off one of those “do not remove under penalty of law” tags from pillows or mattresses. I have even taped and re-shown sporting events without the “express written consent,” of anybody in authority.
I plan to form the NRA, the National Remote Association. I’ll put a bumper sticker on my car that says, “You can have my remote when you pry it from my fingers after I fall asleep in the recliner, again.”
Then there will be the ever popular NRA T-shirt, reading “When remotes are outlawed ... I’ll get a whole lot more exercise.”
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.