Digitising VHS: Piracy or Protection?

Video Film Rentals sign
Here at Video Cultures HQ, we’ve been talking about the use of digital technology and the Internet as an archiving tool for video content that has never been released in any high resolution format such as DVD or Blu-Ray. In recent years, a number of ‘link sharing’ websites have sprung up online giving rise to communities of film fans who digitise their old VHS tapes so that their favourite films are not lost to the ravages of time. They then share this material over the Internet with like-minded fans.

What are your thoughts on this practice? Is this simply a flagrant violation of copyright or are there some deeper cultural rituals at work here? After all, who hasn’t discovered a great film or a great album by having a cassette copy thrust into their hands by an eager friend? Are these sorts of communities providing a virtual upgrade on the word of mouth recommendations we all used to receive at our local video shops?

In an age when there is little need to have a conversation in order to rent a movie, download a film on demand or stream a movie from Netflix, should we view communities such as these as people with no respect for the ownership of intellectual property, or as film lovers trying to protect forgotten works from extinction? Can we honestly say that the routine of digitising obsolete VHS tapes results in lost income for the content owner?

The argument is that these kinds of online sharing routines destroy the industry’s ability to make money and therefore damage its ability to make new products. The archivist might suggest that using technology in this way gives the next generation of film fans an opportunity to discover material they would never normally have been exposed to and thus increases the chances of commercial success when older films are eventually remastered and released in a modern format.

Historically, there has been fear in both the video and music industries about home taping on cassette. This was, of course, further transformed by the arrival of digital technology that could produce perfect copies at a low cost. In music, an enormous percentage of all of the albums ever recorded are rotting in vaults because there is no financial incentive to make them available. Could the free market research carried out by this new breed of digital archivist be one of the greatest assets the video industry ever had? Or should film fans seek out those video shops that remain open and instead support them with their custom? Are there even any shops in the UK still carrying obsolete video formats for rental?

In its broadest sense, this is a debate that continues to rage today as media producers try to understand the Internet and its impact upon their existing business models. No doubt the answer lies in the grey area between these two polarities. What are your views on this?

Video shop memorabilia

We’ve been thinking about memorabilia from video shops such as membership cards, posters, postcards, standees, t-shirts, rental cases and the like. We happened upon these items in two great video stores: Rocket Video in LA and Scarecrow Video in Seattle.

Do you have anything you can contribute to this gallery? We’re especially interested in memorabilia from UK video shops that have now gone out of business. Please email pictures to videocultures@gmail.com.

A VHS Collection: Part Five

This series has been submitted by Dale Lloyd, aka @VivaVHS.

I have finally arrived at one of my largest studio collections, CIC (Cinema International Corporation).

I have tried to separate all of the different types of CIC tapes that I own. You will notice below that there are quite a few pre-cert films. Whenever I can find any, i’ll pay through the nose for them. The best looking CIC tapes, in my opinion, are the ones with the horizontal lines on the spine of the case. They just look so good in a collection! It’s like they took somebody’s bedroom wallpaper from the 80s and decided to adapt the same style to their VHS cases.

Back in the day when most of the obscure VHS tapes were overpriced and largely unavailable, I paid a lot of money for certain film titles. I remember a guy called Ron who used to work at a market that I would visit once a week. He had a large stall full of classic movies on VHS, some original but mostly full of reissues. He would also have a rack above his stall which he labelled ‘Banned, Rare and Deleted’. I don’t think I need to explain which films he used to display there, but he had a lot of CIC films on the rack like The Keep and Streets of Fire along with stuff like the original Last House on The Left, Hot Bubblegum etc.

In particular, I really remember Delirious, the Eddie Murphy live stand up show (a personal fave of mine). He used to have this displayed every week with the hefty price tag of £50 placed upon it. I managed to pick mine up for around the £20.00 mark, and most recently 50p from a car boot sale. I had to mention this guy as he made me pay £25 for a reissued version of Suspiria, only for me to find the EMI original a week later for £2.

“As advertised on Crimestoppers.”

I managed to find a promo tape of The Blues Brothers (pictured below) on CIC about a month back. I thought I always had the original art (the dark blue cover), but this one has an extra six minutes running time compared to the one I had, so I have replaced it. I have a few tapes where the running time differs by a few minutes but I always thought that this was mainly the pre-cert horror movies like The Burning, where all of the released pre-cert tapes were recalled and re-recorded over the top with the ‘cleaner cut’ version and then re-released. This is the reason I have two copies of Once Upon A Time In America and also two copies of The Manitou. The running time on those is a little out too.

My favourite of the CIC issues, were the John Hughes Collection tapes (pictured). I’m pretty sure i’ve collected all of the ones that were released, but I was shocked to find that Planes, Trains and Automobiles wasn’t cased in the same way. Never mind eh?