Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property

By Ronald V. Bettig | Go to book overview

6
The Law of Intellectual Property: The Videocassette Recorder and the Control of Copyrights

Another challenge to the filmed entertainment copyright system emerged with the sale of videocassette recorders (VCRs) to the home consumer in late 1975. For the first time, this new technology made it possible for consumers to buy or rent copies of movies, to tape and build home libraries of television programs and movies, and to watch them at times of convenience. Although providing more flexibility to users of audiovisual media, the VCR once again meant a certain loss of control for copyright owners over their copyrighted works. Along with technologies such as photocopiers, audiocassette recorders, and computers, VCRs made the use and reproduction of copyrighted works possible on a massive scale, often without compensation to the copyright owner.

With few exceptions, copyright is based on an owner's ability to have exclusive control over the use of his or her product. This exclusive control is what protects the exchange value of the copyrighted work in the intellectual property marketplace. Traditionally, copyright owners have chosen when and where to exploit their copyrighted property to achieve what they hope will be a profitable return on their investments. Where reproductive technologies erode this exclusive control, the exchange value of the copyright is reduced as more people will be able to make use of the property without payment. Accordingly, copyright owners seek mechanisms in the marketplace, the court system, or the legislature that will allow them to capitalize on the uses of their property that new technologies afford.

In this chapter I examine the responses of filmed entertainment copyright owners, as manifested particularly in the courts and Congress, to the emergence and proliferation of the VCR. The primary focus here is on the emerging use of VCRs to record broadcast television programming and to play rented and purchased filmed entertainment, mainly produced by the major Hollywood studios. The incorporation of this new technology into the hands of core firms is now largely completed as filmed entertainment companies have shifted their efforts to

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