Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Do you recognize the boxy looking contraption on the cover of this issue? While it’s not exactly an ancient artifact, Sony’s original Betamax videocassette recorder (circa 1975) certainly qualifies as a technological relic. That’s because the company’s videotape format, which Sony was confident would dominate the market, pretty quickly took a back seat to the competing “video home service” format — VHS for short — developed by Japan Victor Corporation, better known in the United States as JVC. Although the revolutionary Betamax machines were first on the market, VHS-compatible recorders ultimately won the day. Still, Sony plugged away with its Betamax machines, continuing worldwide production and sales until 1998. It wasn’t until 2002 that Sony officially threw in the towel by discontinuing its line of Betamax VCRs even in Japan. Only 2,800 units were produced during the previous year. But the Betamax brand name will live on forever, if not in the living rooms and dens of television viewers than at least in the annals of legal history. Earlier this year marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, which is more widely known as the Betamax decision. Fearful that the then-fledgling home video industry would empty out the nation’s — indeed, the world’s — darkened movie theaters, Hollywood’s major studios tried to block by legal decree what technology had now threatened to unleash. Remember Jack Valenti’s predictions of doom and gloom? “The VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone,” warned Hollywood’s powerful lobbyist-in-chief. The studios had yet to figure out that all of those dreaded videocassette recorders would soon turn into video cash registers, with Hollywood reaping billions of dollars from the sales and rentals of video versions of its movies. The lucrative discovery was not far off. By the mid-1980s, VCRs had found their way into 50 percent of American households, with revenues from videos permanently surpassing box-office receipts. Fast-forward two decades, and — lo and behold! — the Hollywood v. Technology debate echoes to the immortal words of that great sage, Yogi Berra: It’s deja vu all over again. Now, it’s about the digital revolution in which movies, music and other entertainment products are so easily turned into computer-friendly ones and zeroes, which in turn allows them to be flung around cyberspace, where they can be downloaded, uploaded, file-shared and digitally copied by pirates and paying customers alike. Valenti, for his part, is still leading the sky-is-falling brigade. Hollywood may have co-opted the Betamax revolution, but a new generation of insurgents threatens to topple the kingdom, at least in the eyes of those who continue to maintain a tight grip on the golden keys. If history does indeed keep repeating itself, anyone care to wager on the outcome of this latest version of the Chicken Little tale? C’mon, anybody? To help commemorate both the Betamax ruling and its continuing cultural and legal legacy, IP magazine asked several of the nation’s leading IP lawyers, academics and other assorted policy wonks to contribute their thoughts on the most pressing problems — and suggested solutions — when it comes to the digital implications of intellectual property law. Elsewhere in this issue, you’ll read about other flare-ups in the digital wars — from a gray-tinged copyright flap over a black-and-white musical mix to questions about whether the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is being used to stifle speech in cyberspace. Hopefully, you’ll find some of this information useful to you in your professional life. What you do with that old collection of Betamax tapes, however, is entirely your own business. Steven Pressman Editor [email protected]

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.