Which Children’s Television Show Host Argued In Defense Of Home Recording?
Answer: Mr. Rogers
Today, we take recording and time shifting of television for granted. Found a new show you love? Add it to the queue in your TiVo and enjoy it at your leisure. In the early days of home recording equipment, however, the legality of recording television broadcasts was hotly contested—the debate worked its way all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The case of Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., popularly known as the “Betamax Case”, was influential in establishing the recording freedoms we enjoy today. Of all the testimony heard for the case, that of Fred Rogers, the Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, was by far the most notable and resonated the most widely with both the Justices and the general public. In 1979 he explained his stance in court as such:
“Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the ‘Neighborhood’ at hours when some children cannot use it. I think that it’s a real service to families to be able to record such programs and show them at appropriate times. I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the ‘Neighborhood’ off-the-air, and I’m speaking for the ‘Neighborhood’ because that’s what I produce, that 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.’ Maybe I’m going on too long, but 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 Justices considered Rogers’ testimony to be strong evidence, especially in light of the 3,000,000+ family reach that Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood had, that copyright holders and content producers were willing to allow private time shifting to continue and ruled in favor of the practice. The manufacturing of Betamax units as well as VCRs, DVD recorders, and, much later, digital recorders such as TiVos, all hinged on the ruling. The next time you sit down to enjoy a show on your own terms at a time that is convenient to you, take a moment to remember Mr. Rogers and how his influential testimony and desire to empower people to make their own choices changed the law of the land.
Image courtesy of PBS.