The Post's recent editorial on home taping ("But Is It Piracy?", Jan. 23) suggests that there really is such a thing as a free lunch--that people can freely copy films and music broadcast into their homes, and that no one will ever have to pay the price. Indeed, The Post advises that there is not even a federal responsibility to resolve the home taping issue at all.
If Congress heeded this advice, we would be abandoning intellectual property to the rapid advances of technology.
Copyright laws were born out of a need to respond to technology, when the printing press made it possible to copy and sell what others had written. That's why we call it a copy-right.
Why should Congress now refuse to protect the copyright against this latest mechanical assault--the VCR? The Post suggests Congress should hold back because the videocassette recorder is just another technological development requiring adjustments in the marketplace, similar to those brought about by the advent of television. But the analogy is not apt. Unlike VCRs, television sets have never appropriated the creative properties of others without compensation--precisely because the copyright laws worked the way they are supposed to work.
Imagine the havoc that would have ensued had our copyright laws not offered such protection, but left the networks free to copy any motion picture they wished and to transmit it to the public at will. Who, then, would have been willing to invest time, money and creative energies to make a motion picture?
The great irony of this controversy is that technological marvels like television would have little value were it not for the products of the creative community. Should we protect the machine but ignore the hundreds of thousands of Americans who make the programs that give the machine its value?
The Post makes the argument that home video and audio taping is innocuous because it is not for a "commercial purpose." But the current condition of the American music industry provides a classic example of the accumulated impact of noncommercial home taping.
Surveys show that the public is consuming just as much music as ever--it just buys less of it, and tapes more of it. The result, according to Alan Greenspan, is lost sales of about $1 billion a year, with predictable side effects: new album releases are down by one-third, artists' rosters have been slashed, and new artists are rarely recorded. That means less musical diversity, less musical innovation, and just less music.
The proliferation of VCRs poses the same grave threat. Revenue sources critical to the creation of motion pictures and television programs will be substantially diminished as a result of home taping, making a high-risk business even riskier. To recover their costs, most films rely on secondary markets such as network and local television. If the revenue potential of these secondary markets is diminished, the film and TV producers will simply produce fewer movies, will be less innovative, and will direct their products to those who can afford premium theater ticket prices and high- priced pay television systems.
How many senior citizens can afford the $100 per year subscription fee for pay TV programming? Those Americans who depend on "free" television will likely have meager entertainment fare, because the quality products will not be shown where they will be copied.
The Post editorial is absolutely right that every American who uses a video or audio recorder should be exempt from copyright liability. But does that mean that we should allow manufacturers of recording machines and tapes to reap enormous profits at the expense of those who create the entertainment that makes these devices so attractive, and, in the long run, at the expense of the American consumer?
It is always politically popular to advocate giving away someone else's property, but we are not prepared to abandon two centuries of copyright doctrine because the complexities of a new technology challenge our ingenuity. Instead, we are sponsors of the "Home Recording Act of 1983," a bill that would exempt home tapers from copyright liability while providing fair compensation to copyright owners who create the programming that people tape. Although our bill breaks new ground, it is rooted in a very old principle. As Dr. Samuel Johnson expressed it more than 200 years ago:
"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."