Using blank tapes in the 80's, why no RIAA lawsuits?

I grew up in the 80’s. Back then we bought blank tapes, and recorded songs off of the radio; made copies of other people’s records, tapes, or CDs; or copied songs off of them for mixed tapes. It was widely practiced.

Although from what I’ve heard recently the recording industry wasn’t thrilled about it, they didn’t go around suing people for tens of thousands of dollars.

Why did that change when songs started being uploaded and downloaded on computers?

Mass distribution and quality. It’s one thing to copy a cassette every once in a while–someone still had to purchase the original version, and without the aid of the internet, that’s a lot of people. But now everyone can do it, and feasibly, all based on only copy uploaded to the internet.

Secondly, computers enable perfect (or near perfect) reproductions of the music, whereas every cassette copy would gradually degrade in quality. If you wanted the best sound, you still had to go out and buy the actual product (though that too would degrade in time).

But basically, the industry would have no way of tracking down those who did make copies back in the day, and even then, it wouldn’t be worth their time since there was almost no mass-distribution/copying like there is now.

That’s what I was thinking. Being easier to track people.

There was a big enough anti-taping campaign back then, remember the stupid ‘Home taping is killling music’ line?

It was pretty dumb, because for the most part, what folk were doing was copying material they had already paid for.

Of course the recording industry completely neglected to offer a viable alternative to run your Sony walkman, since pre-recorded tapes were absolutely rubbish quality, and the Walkman really made it obvious - you could record your cd onto a decent tape at home and it sounded so much better than the shite that the industry was offering on pre-recorded.

Given the cost of a pre-recorded tape, you would have thought that it would have been in the interests of the industry to offer a half decent product, maybe even something better than you could knock together at home, but as ever, the stupid execs never understood it and sold us cheap crap tapes, badly recorded for premium prices.

I remember a serious proposal that every blank tape should have a royalty fee built into the price on the assumption that copyrighted material would be put onto it, never seemed to happen though various attempts were made.

The issue is the ability to mass copy perfect reproductions of the music. Making a backup tape or mix tape of music you already own is considered “fair use” as long as you don’t sell it. And unless you sell it in bulk, a time consuming and expensive process, it’s not worth the record company’s time to pursue it.

With the advent of digital media and file sharing, you can now take a single recording, perfectly duplicate it an infinite number of times and distribute copies all over the world for free.

I think they were referring to copying your friend’s new AC/DC CD or tape, not making a backup for your walkman. The backup is considered “fair use”.

Tapes came before CDs. Once you started buying CDs, your old tapes were now obsolete media and you weren’t expected to purchase music in that format anymore.

The “viable alternative” was the Sony Diskman.

Why do people think it’s “stupid” when execs make very logical and profitable decisions?

I had pre-recorded tape once - I think it was a copy of “Derek and the Dominos” - that actually had a skip in it, like they duped it from a copy of the album rather than using the master tape.

I thought the big deal wasn’t making a mix tape for your paramour, but taping stuff from the radio, i.e. without anyone paying a cent (well, except the radio station I suppose)

Since I wanted to be able to answer Superhal’s ATMB question (“Has a thread ever been moved TO GQ?”) in the affirmative, I’m moving this from MPSIMS to GQ.

Plus it seemed like a sound enough idea.

twickster, MPSIMS moderator

Audio Home Recording Act of 1992

A friend of mine in the 80’s had some videotapes that had been duplicated several generations. The sound and video quality was awful, but since it was porn and the overall action was still discernable, we didn’t care.

That’s the difference. A tape is pretty much no longer music by any definition after 2 or 3 unprofessional generations. I bet half the rarities found on Napster (and now in music collections world-wide) are due to one or a handful of original digitizations of that song, and each of those 10 million copies is the same quality.

I remember once hearing a girl phone in to a radio station back in the 70’s, and requested a song. She asked “Can you not talk over the intro, because we want to record it for my friend’s birthday party”. The DJ said “OK, here goes.” The song’s fancy intro started , then about 30 seconds in the DJ says over the music “I hope she’s glad I wasn’t talking over that intro. I bet they’ll enjoy this song at the party…”

Before napster, I used to record the satellite TV’s music channels to WAV files, then use the tools from the SOundBlaster card to clip the song at just the right place to produce a clean recording; then run the DOS-based mp3 converter, that took about an hour back then to produce a 4-minute song from WAV.

I seem to remember hearing that DJ’s were supposed to talk over the intro for just that reason…I’ve also heard that some songs have a longer intro for the radio so DJ’s can talk over it without it cutting into the lyrics.

I also remember years ago when there was a new release coming soon that everyone was excited for, sometimes the DJ’s would play it early but they would talk over the entire thing. I believe this was all in agreement with the label as it generated even more buzz about the song.

I don’t think it has really changed that much. It’s more that there is an (almost*) completely new way of pirating.

The record companies and their agents aren’t going after people who give their friends copies or people who accept the copies (They’d probably like to but, so far, it’s impractical). What they are going after is people who effectively enable distribution of pirated software to virtually unlimited numbers of people in a very convenient manner. People are still, so far, free to give copies to and accept copies from people they know with virtually no chance of comeuppance. If you email some tracks to a friend or hand over copies physically there’s no realistic chance of either of you being prosecuted although what you’re doing is certainly against the law.

  • I say almost new because the radio did that but:

a) The copies would never be close to the original.
b) The record companies needed the radio plays for publicity.

Not in in the US. Only libraries can create a backup for fair use, not individuals.

As for blank tapes, there was a fee added to the cost of the tape that was paid to the copyright holder. This made the tape an “approved medium.” You could not be sued for copyright infringement if you used any approved media. Note that you didn’t have the right to copy; only the right to use this fact to dismiss any lawsuits. The RIAA didn’t sue because they got a cut of every cassette sold in order to pay for the ability to make a copy.

Is there a case where someone has been found to have violated copyright by creating a backup for their own personal use?

Except that this was not a logical, nor was it a profitable decision.

The outlay at the company end for a few million good quality tapes would have been marginal compared to rubbish tapes, however if they had used them, and made reasonable quality recordings, they would have recouped that small cost, and probably have sold far more pre-recorded tapes than they did.

Once you have bought a couple of rubbish pre-recorded tapes, and then copied your album or cd on your own better quality tapes on your own home hifi, you quickly realise you are being taken for mug, so you don’t buy any more pre-recorded tapes, and the culutre of home recording increases by on more person who wised up.

The record execs were simply stupid, lazy and greedy, a fatal combination.

When CDs came out in the early 1980’s the writing was on the wall, however many cds were not tranferred very well onto that medium, and in the meantime the quality of home recording devices imporved markedly, record a pristine remastered cd on to a metal tape on a high end casstte machine and you would be hard pressed to discren the differance in a blind test.

At any rate, the market for tapes continued for quite some time after that due to the use of cassettes as in car entertainment - cds did not make much in the way of inroads into this market until well into the 1990’s and by then the mp3 player was already making a cut into the ICE market too.

The Sony Discman was never really a true alternative to the cassette tape due to the high cost and proprietry format, it did find its own niche but it was originally intended to compete with the CD, which it never really did, it was not really meant to replace the cassette which was just so much cheaper and gave you very similar results.

Sony have always had this idea of trying to break formats, wether its DAT or minidisc, something it has tried to do with bluray - but it keeps backing the wrong horse partly because it tries to bleed it for more than its worth - high cost for little obvious gain.

In many ways this shows the beauty of the MP3, which is an elderly concept these days, but its open standards allow it to keep up, its cheap and the expensive alternatives are not discernably any better at the consumer end.

DJs were also supposed to “front-sell” at the beginning of the song or “back-sell” at the end so listeners would know what to look for at the record store. Then, as now, music radio was about promotion. Labels didn’t want to give their product away for free, but they wanted to make it easy for people who liked it to find it. Talking over the intro or end solves both problems. It makes a recording useless, and it informs the listener.

Nitpick: the original Discman model in 1984 (Sony press release giving Walkman/Discman timeline), and the majority of those produced over the years, were CD players; the name was later applied to a few models of portable Mini Disc player.

I imagine one of the big reasons that Sony keeps pushing proprietary formats is that the Beta/VHS war showed that they can profit handsomely if the format gets even a small market niche. I’ve read (but can’t cite, unfortunately) that Beta was more profitable for Sony than VHS was for JVC.

You mean MiniDisc player. The Discman was simply their name for a portable CD player.

On the local “album oriented” rock station back in the 80’s they would occasionally play entire albums, with a timed countdown before the first track and absolutely no voice over. It was clearly for tapers, no one made any bones about it. IIRC they did one fairly popular album a week.