Motion picture group requires studios to post only G-rated Internet material

Monday, July 20, 1998

The Motion Picture Association of America, which last month quietly began reviewing official movie Web sites, now says that it requires studios to post only G-rated material if they wish to secure a rating for their films.


The requirement isn't part of a new rating system but merely an extension of the group's current guidelines for advertising and marketing, said Bethlyn Hand, executive vice president for advertising ratings.


“When a film is submitted for rating, part of the criteria is the studio must also submit all of its material for advertising and publicity,” Hand said. “We look at it all in terms of its suitability for children.”


Hand said the association extended its ratings guidelines to video several years ago and began reviewing Internet material on June 1. Movies submitted before that date aren't subject to Internet guidelines.


That means the site for movies such as Boogie Nights, which features drawings of various sexual positions as link buttons, may remain online. Fan pages, foreign sites or unrated film sites aren't subject to the guidelines.


Barry Steinhardt, president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the new guidelines futile.


“Once you try to apply this system, even though it's a so-called voluntary system, to the Internet, it becomes a little bit [tedious],” Steinhardt said. “There are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of Web sites about popular films and about popular entertainers.”


Steinhardt said the rating system might work well with films themselves, considering that movie studios release only several hundred each year, but it won't work on the Internet.


“I think [the MPAA officials] are trying to apply a technique that has worked for them in a very narrow and closed universe to a broad, open universe,” he said. “If they really believe that they are going to produce a slice of the Internet concerned with film that is rated G, they are very naïve.”


At least one studio has found a way to circumvent the guidelines.


Universal Studios, producer of the new comedy BASEketball, opened its official site at www.BASEketball.net, but also allowed the creation of a “fan” site at www.BASEketball.com. The latter site isn't subject to regulation.


Hand notes that Universal studio officials submitted the film before the June 1 deadline, so it wouldn't have been subject to review in any case.


If a studio violates the guideline, the MPAA will either remove its rating or sue if the rating is used without permission. Movie studios tend to seek ratings because most theaters won't exhibit films without them.