MPAA Orders Labeling of Films Altered for Home Viewing


This film has been modified from its original version.

With words like that, the motion picture industry will begin informing viewers and consumers of films on television, cable, videocassette and other formats that the movie they are about to see has been in some way changed from the original vision of the creators.

The labels will apply to any film that has been colorized from its original black-and-white, edited, shown at an imperceptibly faster or slower rate to fit into a TV programming schedule, or “panned and scanned” (which means that the full horizontal picture that one would see on a movie theater screen is not what the viewer will see).


At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said: “It is our intent to clearly and concisely inform consumers, through the use of labels.”

Valenti said that voluntary use of the labels has been agreed to by every major Hollywood studio, as well as by Miramax Films, New Line Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn Co. and Turner Broadcasting System.

But reaction in Hollywood to the news was sharply divided. Among the copyright owners (the producers, studios, networks), of course, there was support for what Valenti, their chief lobbyist, had announced. But among the creative community there was significant dissension.

A joint statement from the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, American Society of Cinematographers and the International Photographers Guild said the new labels fail to provide specifics. “When a viewer reads the MPAA label informing him that the movie he is about to watch has been ‘edited for content,’ does that mean 30 seconds or 30 minutes have been removed from the original work?” the statement asked.

The labels say nothing about whether the director, screenwriter and cinematographer consented to the changes, it added. The groups said their position in favor of labels that “allow for full and truthful disclosure” remains unchanged and noted that the producers would not have adopted this “first step” toward disclosure had the guilds not applied pressure.

The labeling system came about largely due to the pressure of pending legislation in both houses of Congress that would have adopted recommendations of the organizations of film workers and required more specific information. The suggested wording would have been: “This film is not the version originally released. . . . The heirs of the director and the screenwriter object because this alteration changes the narrative and/or characterization.”

Over the last several months, talks between the motion picture association, represented by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the guilds, ended in a stalemate.

The result was the unilateral action on the part of the motion picture association announced Thursday. The move appears to have had the effect of warding off legislation for the time being.

Speaking for Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N.J.), chairman of the intellectual property subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, chief counsel Hayden Gregory said that Hughes “believes the labels go a long way toward resolving the situation and he believes they should be given a try.”

Likewise, a spokesman for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that the senator believes legislation would be unnecessary. In a statement, Hatch said: “I salute the film industry for voluntarily addressing issues of significant concern, both to the creators of motion pictures as well as to the motion picture audience. . . . When films are altered for the purpose of television broadcast or video release, it is important that the fact of alteration and the nature of the alteration be communicated to the public. The labeling program . . . appears to achieve this goal.”

However, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), sponsor of the House bill, said he doesn’t believe the voluntary system is adequate. “It doesn’t meet the concern of the directors, that they did not participate in the changes. It doesn’t say, ‘I wasn’t in on the change.’ A lot of people would assume the changes were made by the directors . . . my view is that we still need a bill.”

In the voluntary system, the labels will read as follows:

Panned and Scanned: This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV.

Panned and Scanned/Edited/Time Compression: This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV, and edited for content and to run in the time allotted.

Colorization: This is a colorized version of the original black-and-white film.

Valenti said the labels would be utilized immediately. They will appear at the beginning of films and on videocassette packages.