0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
Thirty years ago yesterday the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled that time-shifting of TV shows using video recorders was legal. The ‘Betamax’ case, or Universal v Sony for its real name, has proven one thing for certain. When it came to the level of damages the industry predicted would be caused by technology they weren’t even close to reality, a situation that continues today.In 1984, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 that the Sony Betamax recorder was legal, due to its significant non-infringing uses. This led to the consumer entertainment revolution of the last 30 years.Everything from DVRs to tablets to MP3 players were made possible. Even the camera in your cellphone owes its existence to that ruling, as otherwise the ability to produce a copy of a copyrighted work (even of degraded quality) would have been enough to scupper its production.Of the Betamax debate, however, the bit most people recall came from Congressional testimony some two years earlier, with MPAA President Jack Valenti telling Congress how the machine was ‘the Boston Strangler’ of the industry.What most don’t remember though is that it was only one of four arguments made at the time. He also argued that the movie business was a really risky one, and that VCRs would impact the already tough advertising business. Additionally, machines made overseas would kill the US economy because of imports. And of course, OMG PIRATES!!!!!!!So, how true were those claims? Sure the US economy’s pretty bad, but overseas electronics are not really a factor in that. Indeed, domestic production of machines to compete would probably have started before Valenti’s speech if it weren’t for… Valenti and his ilk. It happened later with MP3 players too, with the threats over the Diamond Rio in 1998 delaying their introduction.What about advertising? Since we’ve had fast-forward buttons for 30+ years, all adverts are gone, right? No, as most people know, Google makes a fortune from adverts, even skippable and blockable ones. Sure some are made unskippable, but that’s only in the last few years – they could be sped-through at will during most of the 90s. It’s yet another non-starter argument.How about the Risky Business part? Well, there’s another name for ‘risky business’, it’s called ‘business’. All businesses are a risk and most don’t last a year. And here the movie studios have not done themselves any favors over the past thirty years. While blockbuster films like ET, Ghostbusters and Superman III hovered at $30-40 million dollar budgets in the early 80s, the likes of Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 now cost more than $200Million. The first rule of pleading poverty is don’t massively increase your risk and spending. Not that they’ve had it so bad, with record year after record year.Finally, how’s that piracy angle? Well, let’s start with VCRs themselves. Back in 1987 we had video sales surpassing the box office for studio income, so it doesn’t seem to have hurt them there. In fact, once they were resigned to it, it took them only four years to turn things around.