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Why Save Betamax?

Why Save Betamax?

The short version: We’re organizing a call-in day to Congress on September 14 to oppose new legislation that would undermine the Betamax decision (INDUCE Act). Sign up on the right.

Here’s why: The Betamax VCR died more than 15 years ago, but the Supreme Court decision that made the Betamax and all other VCRs legal lived on. In Sony vs. Universal (known as the Betamax decision) the Court ruled that because VCRs have legitimate uses, the technology is legal—even if some people use it to copy movies. Of course, the movie industry was lucky it lost the case against VCRs, because home video soon became Hollywood’s largest source of revenue. And the freedom to use and develop new technology that was protected by the Betamax decision set the stage for the incredible growth in computer technology we’ve seen in the last few decades.

Hollywood is Trying to Kill Betamax

The Betamax ruling is the only thing that protects your right to own a VCR, tape recorder, CD-burner, DVD-burner, iPod, or TiVo. It’s that important. But new legislation that’s being pushed through the Senate by lobbyists for the music and movie industries would override the Betamax decision and create a huge liability for any business that makes products which can copy sound or video. This legislation (formerly known as the INDUCE Act) would essentially give Hollywood veto power over a huge range of new technologies. And if they get this power, they’ll definitely use it. Even “compromise” drafts from the Copyright Office could make mp3-playing iPods ancient history; the music and movie industries want to force all content to go through their own restricted channels.

Is Congress Insane?

You might think so at first glance. Voters, technology experts, public interest groups, and electronics manufacturers all oppose these efforts to weaken Betamax. So why is it still happening? Because the major record labels and the movie studios– the same companies that opposed the Betamax ruling– make huge donations to the re-election campaigns of the Senators who are sponsoring this legislation. And most members of Congress assume this is a non-controversial issue, off the radar of most voters. If they can please their donors without a big fuss, they will. It’s bad policy, but until we start making noise, it’s smart politics.

Why We Need a National Call-In Day

We need to make sure Congress hears from the public. There’s been plenty of opposition on the internet to the INDUCE Act and its more recent drafts. But this general dissatisfaction hasn’t quite come together into a real demonstration of how strongly people feel about protecting the Betamax decision. At Downhill Battle, we’ve organized people to send faxes to Congress before and there’s been lots of emails flying around, but telephone calls take it to the next level. A big, one-day mobilization to swamp these members of Congress with phone calls could make a huge impact on the debate. If you care about keeping Betamax intact but haven’t felt compelled to act before, now’s the time to get involved. You can sign up on the top right of this page.

Not Convinced? Don’t Take Our Word For It.

If you’re ready to get involved, go sign up. If you want some more info on the Betamax ruling and what’s happening in Congress, here are some really good quotes from filesharing opponents, Mr. Rogers, and Sony’s own Corporate History, all of them in support of the Betamax decision: Convincing Quotes.