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VCR Anti-Copying Device Urged : Film Industry Asks Senate to Curb Copyright Violations

September 24, 1986|ROBYN NORWOOD | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Film industry officials, in testimony before a Senate panel, pressed Tuesday for legislation that would require electronics manufacturers to equip their videocassette recorders with a device to prevent the copying of many movie cassettes.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said such a device could be installed for less than 15 cents a unit and would foil "back-to-back" copying, the practice of connecting two video recorders to produce xunauthorized duplicates of a videocassette.

"Unauthorized back-to-back copying is a malevolent threat to the creative future," Valenti said, calling the practice "a deadly virus."

"Every unauthorized copy made from a prerecorded videocassette potentially displaces a sale or rental of a prerecorded videocassette," he said.

But a VCR manufacturers group asserted that such legislation is unwarranted, saying that the movie industry cannot show that it is suffering losses from movie copying.

"When you can rent a movie for $1, why would it make sense to spend $6 or $8 for a movie rental and a blank tape? In no way are video recorders causing harm to Hollywood producers." Rather, he said, VCRs will provide $1.8 billion in videocassette business for the film industry this year.

Dispute Since 1976

The testimony was presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The film industry and VCR manufacturers have been clashing over copyright issues since 1976, when the copyright laws were last rewritten. In 1984, the Supreme Court, ruling in a suit filed by Universal City Studios and Walt Disney Productions against Sony, the maker of the Betamax recorder, said consumers do not violate the law when they tape television shows for their own use, nor do companies that sell the recording machines to the public.

The anti-copying device promoted by the film industry would function by reading an encoded marker on a cassette. The system would cause no disturbance in normal playback but would interrupt the picture at 30-second intervals if duplication were attempted. The system would not interfere with the taping of television programs.

James G. Fifield, president and chief executive of CBS/Fox, said individual VCR manufacturers would be unlikely to put such devices in their units because it would put them at a competitive disadvantage, with most consumers probably choosing to buy recorders that allowed them to copy movie cassettes.

In 1984, film industry officials sought a royalty tax on rentals and sales of copyrighted movies to compensate for any unauthorized copying, but the legislation did not pass.

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