Going for the Record

On this day in 1984, after a year of deliberation, the US supreme court ruled in favour of Sony (makers of the Betamax video-recorder) and against Universal Studios and Disney, who had claimed that viewers recording television programmes were stealing copyrighted material. The counter-argument was that home-tapers were “time-shifting”: rescheduling programmes through convenience rather than greed. The acceptance of that argument was decided on a 5-4 vote, meaning that if one justice had been a little crustier, television viewers might now be confined to their homes on the nights of their favourite shows. —Mark LawsonGoing for the Record (Guardian)

I’m sure that many of the record company executives who complain about people stealing music by downloading it have no ethical qualms about videotaping TV shows for their own personal libraries (and I’ll be they fast-forward through the commercials, too). Of course, the media titans are also going after TiVo and other tools with commercial-zapping goodies inside them.

Back then, it was technology maker vs. Hollywood. Now, Sony is one of the big media companies (owning both the technological platforms and the creative content for movies, TV, music, and videogames). Sony tried to stem the tide of file-sharing by selling audio gadgets that had security features to prevent Sony from losing money on the files, but users didn’t like paying for a clunky gadget that didn’t let them do what they really wanted to do with files (namely, get them for free).

I neither buy nor “share” music files, but then I don’t buy CDs either, other than occasionally grabbing one out of a $5 bargain bin (and I can’t even remember the last time I did that).