How Mister Rogers Saved the VCR

Focus Features
Focus Features

In 1984, a landmark case laid down a controversial law regarding technology and copyright infringement. Here's a look back at the "Betamax Case," including the role Fred Rogers played in the Supreme Court's decision.

For many years in the pre-DVD/Blu-ray, pre-streaming era, the BetamaxSony’s prototype videotape player-recorder—was a punch line. A piece of technology that was quickly superseded by VHS and the VCR, it limped along in the shadows for two decades. And yet, it was the Betamax that gave its name to a court case that has played a pivotal role in both technological progress and copyright law over the last 30-plus years.

Like many other cool electronic products, the Betamax came from Japan. In late 1975, it was introduced to the U.S. by Sony, who touted its ability to “time-shift” television programming. In an era when most viewers still had to get up off the couch to change channels manually, this innovation was as futuristic as it sounded. Record a TV show right off the air? Are you kidding?

If the public was wowed by the idea, the major entertainment corporations were not. Universal Studios and Walt Disney Productions filed a lawsuit in 1976 to halt the sale of the Betamax, claiming that film and TV producers would lose millions of dollars from unauthorized duplication and distribution of their copyrighted content.

When the case finally went to trial in 1979, the U. S. District Court ruled in favor of Sony, stating that taping programs for entertainment or time-shifting was fair use, and did not infringe on copyright. Further, there was no proof that the practice did any economic harm to the television or motion picture industry.

But Universal, unhappy with the verdict, appealed in 1981, and the ruling was reversed. Keep in mind that up until the arrival of the Betamax, movie studios had received a cut of the box office or fee whenever one of their films was shown. Now suddenly here was a rapidly expanding scenario that undermined that structure. And in this scenario was the seed of much that would follow over the next 34 years, right through today’s ongoing battles over illegal streaming sites.

MISTER ROGERS GOES TO WASHINGTON

With large sums of money and copyright ownership at stake, the Betamax case arrived at the Supreme Court in 1983. By this point, nearly 50 percent of all homes in America had a VCR (VHS replaced Betamax, mainly because its tapes had longer recording capability) and sales of videocassettes were competing with theatrical box office. Universal Studios vs. Sony Corporation of America, nicknamed the “Betamax Case,” was argued for a year. It was a trial of extremes. On one hand, you had Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, yelling about the “savagery and ravages” of the VCR, and claiming that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." On the other, you had the testimony from Fred Rogers. Defending the VCR, he said:

"I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the 'Neighborhood' off-the-air ... they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions’ ... I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important."

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony and cited Rogers's comments: "He testified that he had absolutely no objection to home taping for noncommercial use and expressed the opinion that it is a real service to families to be able to record children's programs and to show them at appropriate times."

The decision set two major precedents. The first upheld the original decision—that recording a broadcast program for later viewing is fair use. The second was, and still is, controversial—that the manufacturer of a device or technology that can be used for copyright infringement but also has “substantial non-infringing uses” can’t be held liable for copyright violations by those who use it. It’s kind of technology’s version of “don’t shoot the messenger.”

The same points of law would reemerge two decades later in cases against file-sharing sites Napster and Grokster (in the latter, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against them for trading copyrighted material). Of course, despite the popularity of legal movie and TV streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, file sharing continues. Whether it can be, or should be, stopped is a subject for another day. But it’s worth remembering that all the manufacturers of technology capable of copyright infringing (from computers to iPhones to DVRs) continue to sell their wares without fear of lawsuits because of the once-laughed-at Betamax.

To discover more about the fascinating life of Fred Rogers, check out Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the new documentary from Focus Features, which arrives in theaters on June 8, 2018.

Reviews.org Wants to Pay You $1000 to Watch 30 Disney Movies

Razvan/iStock via Getty Images
Razvan/iStock via Getty Images

Fairy tales do come true. CBR reports that Reviews.org is currently hiring five people to watch 30 Disney movies (or 30 TV show episodes) for 30 days on the new Disney+ platform. In addition to $1000 apiece, each of the chosen Disney fanatics will receive a free year-long subscription to Disney+ and some Disney-themed movie-watching swag that includes a blanket, cups, and a popcorn popper.

The films include oldies but goodies, like Fantasia, Bambi, and A Goofy Movie, as well as Star Wars Episodes 1-7 and even the highly-anticipated series The Mandalorian. Needless to say, there are plenty of options for 30 days of feel-good entertainment.

In terms of qualifications: applicants must be over the age of 18, a U.S. resident, have the ability to make a video reviewing the films, as well as a semi-strong social media presence. On the more fantastical side, they are looking for applicants who “really, really lov[e] Disney” and joke that the perfect candidate, “Must be as swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon.” You can check out the details in the video below.

Want to put yourself in the running? Be sure to submit your application by Thursday, November 7 at 11:59 p.m. at the link here. And keep an eye out for Disney+, which will be available November 12.

A Handy Map of All the Royal Residences in the UK

Frogmore House, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's primary estate on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Frogmore House, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's primary estate on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Somewhere along the way, you probably learned that Buckingham Palace is home to the ruler of the United Kingdom and many unflinching, fancily clad guards. And, if you watch The Crown or keep a close eye on royal family news, you might recognize the names of other estates like Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace.

But what about Gatcombe Park, Llwynywermod, or any of the other royal residences? To fill in the gaps of your knowledge, UK-based money-lending site QuickQuid created a map and corresponding illustrations of all 20 properties, and compiled the need-to-know details about each place.

quickquid map of royal family residences
QuickQuid

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip kept eight estates for themselves, and divvied up the rest among their children and grandchildren, some of whom have purchased their own properties, too. Though Buckingham Palace is still considered the official residence of the Queen, she now splits most of her time between Windsor Castle and other holiday homes like Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Sandringham House, which Prince Philip is responsible for maintaining.

quickquid illustration of royal family residences
QuickQuid

Windsor shares its grounds with two other properties: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s home, Frogmore House, and the Royal Lodge, where Prince Andrew (the Queen’s second youngest child) lives.

illustration of frogmore house
QuickQuid

Southwest of Windsor is Highgrove House, Prince Charles’s official family home with wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. They also own Birkhall in Scotland, Clarence House in London, Tamarisk House on the Isles of Scilly, and the aforementioned Llwynywermod in Wales. Much like the Queen herself does, Charles and Camilla basically have a different house for each region they visit.

illustration of highgrove house
QuickQuid

In 2011, the Queen gave Anmer Hall—which is on the grounds of Sandringham House—to Prince William and Kate Middleton as a wedding gift, but they’ve recently relocated to Kensington Palace so Prince George could attend school in London.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s only daughter, Anne, resides in Gatcombe Park with her daughter, Zara Tindall. Anne also owns St. James’s Palace in London, where her niece (Princess Beatrice of York) and her mother’s cousin (Princess Alexandra) sometimes live.

Lastly there's Edward, Elizabeth and Philip's youngest son, who lives with his wife in Bagshot Park, which architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner called “bad, purposeless, [and] ugly.”

illustration of bagshot park
QuickQuid

If you’re feeling particularly cramped in your tiny one-bedroom apartment (or even regular-sized house) after reading about the royal family’s overabundance of real estate, take solace in the knowledge that at least you’ll never have to follow their strict fashion rules.

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