practice of recording a television show onto video tape with a video
recorder (VCR) for the purpose of playing the tape back later at
a more convenient time for the viewer is known as time shifting.
By law, with few exceptions, a person is not permitted to make an
unauthorized copy of a copyrighted work like a television show.
One exception to this is the concept of "fair use." Fair use allows
copying and using copyrighted material for certain nonprofit, educational
and/or entertaining purposes.
The VCR was introduced into the home television market in the United
States during the mid-1970s. As the sale of VCRs increased in the
early 1980s, more and more viewers began taping programs off-the-air.
Program producers and other copyright owners went to court to stop
what they believed to be infringement of their copyrights. Universal
Studios sued Sony Corporation, the inventor and patent holder of
the Betamax VCR, in hopes of stopping home taping of television
programs, or of charging royalties for such copying. A U.S. Court
of Appeals ruled in Universal's favor, but the matter went to the
U.S. Supreme Court which issued its famous "Betamax" decision in
1984. Central to that decision was the granting of permission to
home television viewers to record television shows for purposes
of viewing them later at a more convenient time (i.e. time shifting.)
The high court ruled that such copying constituted fair use, and
would not hurt the market value of the programming itself to program
producers. The court's decision was vague on the issue of warehousing
tape copies. For example, if a viewer is a fan of a soap opera such
as As The World Turns, and makes copies of each and every
episode with the intention of building a library of the entire program
series for repeated playback in the future, that would be warehousing.
The court may have left this matter deliberately vague, however,
because it would be virtually impossible to enforce a ban on such
warehousing without violating a person's right to privacy.
unauthorized copying issue is raised again each time a new electronic
media technology is introduced to the public. The courts are likely
to continue to support the concept of time shifting and other, similar
personal uses of these technologies in the future.
Mark R. and Barrie Gunter. Home Video and the Changing Nature
of the Television Audience. London: Libbey, 1988.
Mark R. Editor. The VCR Age: Home Video and Mass Communication.
Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1989.
Law and Television; Sony