Now that video technology is virtually taken for granted in a majority of America's homes, it turns out that our love affair with the VCR has developed a seamy underside: Almost half of us are cheating. A new survey reveals that the copy-protection systems and flashing FBI warnings that are commonplace on prerecorded cassettes aren't quite the powerful deterrents to illegal copying that the copyright holders in Hollywood hoped they were. According to the survey, based on interviews with 1,002 VCR owners over the age of 15, more than 40 percent of the nation's households are harboring at least one videocassette that was illegally copied from another copyrighted cassette.

The survey, conducted by the New York firm of Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas Inc., reveals several degrees of duplicitous duplicating among VCR owners. Only 15 percent of the statistically representative sample admitted making an illegal copy of a videocassette. Others said they had tried to cheat but couldn't, although not because their consciences got in the way: Twenty percent admitted that they had attempted at some point to make copies but had been unable to do so. About one-third of the sample said they depend on the skills of others, receiving their illegal copies from other VCR owners.

Vintage movies were the favorite fodder for family-room fraud, showing up in 60 percent of the home collections that include illegal copies. Current films come in second, appearing in about one-third of the home libraries, followed by animation, children's movies, music videos and sports. Ironically, tapes that are priced below $30 -- rather than rental releases that cost three times as much to buy -- constitute the vast majority of those that get copied. One out of three of the recent copiers in the survey said they would have bought the tapes they copied if they hadn't been able to copy them.

The survey was sponsored by Macrovision, the company that devised an invisible copy-prevention system that is encoded on about 40 percent of the cassettes of the market.

Happy Trails

After an absence of 26 years, the King of the Cowboys and his trusty steed, Trigger, will gallop back into the black-and-white Wild West when Paramount Home Video stages the home video premiere of "The Roy Rogers Show" next month. Paramount is offering a total of 12 vintage episodes from 1954 to '56, two per cassette, for the series launch. The episodes, which Paramount claims haven't been seen on network television since 1964, offer Roy and his Queen of the West, Dale Evans, in a variety of familiar guises -- lawmaker, peacemaker and general friend of the frontier. The tapes, which run a scant 46 minutes each with all the commercials removed, will be priced at $12.95 apiece.

Tops in Tapes

Who's the biggest star of the video rental business? Most video renters probably never thought about such an honor -- let alone whether one was necessary -- but the rental chart watchers at Disney subsidiary Touchstone Home Video have stitched together a sash for their Number One Rental Star. An even bigger surprise is the lucky lady who gets to wear it: Bette Midler, on the strength that her five Touchstone Home Video vehicles have displayed on the Billboard video rental charts.

According to Touchstone, which brought the renting world "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Ruthless People," "Outrageous Fortune," "Big Business" and "Beaches," Midler's movies linger on the Billboard chart of top video rentals for an average of 27 weeks -- longer even than those of Tom Cruise (20 weeks). Also-rans include Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks and Sylvester Stallone (19 weeks each) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (17 weeks). The folks at Touchstone announced Midler's ascent to rental royalty to promote her hoped-for next tape triumph, "Stella," which arrives in video stores next month. Considering the movie's lackluster performance at the box office -- Midler's worst since Touchstone resurrected her career five years ago -- the tape will probably need all the help it can get.