Education

School Guidelines Not Affected By High Court’s Video Ruling

By Thomas Toch — January 25, 1984 2 min read
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Washington--The Supreme Court ruled last week that it is legal to use video recorders to tape television programs for personal use, but legal experts said the decision will have little immediate effect on the use of such recorded material in the schools.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held in Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios Inc. that the noncommercial use of videotape recorders in the home does not violate federal copyright laws. Companies that make and sell the machines do not violate such laws either, the Court ruled.

After taking the uncommon step of holding two rounds of oral arguments in the case, the Justices overturned a federal appellate-court ruling that the Sony Corporation of America, the maker of the Betamax video recorder, infringed the copyrights owned by Universal City Studios and Walt Disney Productions by enabling home television viewers to record movies without paying royalties.

In its decision, written by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court noted that both sides in the case agreed that the primary use of home video recorders was “time-shifting,” the recording of a program for later, more convenient viewing.

Such private, noncommercial use of the machines, Justice Stevens wrote, falls within the “fair-use” exception to the legal right to control the use of copyrighted material, outlined by Congress in the 1976 amendments to the federal copyright laws.

According to Thomas M. Gould, former general counsel of the International Communications Industry Association, which counts many school audio-visual instructors among its members, the Court’s decision will have “no bearing at all” on rules governing the use of videotaped materials in the schools.

“Schools are considered public places” and so are covered under the Sony case, he said, adding that the legal use of video-recorded material in the schools is outlined in “fair-use” guidelines worked out by educators and representatives of the entertainment industry a few years ago.

Under these guidelines, Mr. Gould said, schools may make only limited use of taped television programs and must destroy the material within 45 days.

Gwendolyn H. Gregory, deputy general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said her organization will advise school officials to continue to adhere to the guidelines, but that the Sony case may in the future be interpreted to allow greater use of videotaped material by schools.

Joining Justice Stevens in the majority in the case were Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Associate Justices William J. Brennan Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, and Byron R. White.

Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote the minority opinion, and was joined by Associate Justices Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell Jr., and William H. Rehnquist.

A version of this article appeared in the January 25, 1984 edition of Education Week as School Guidelines Not Affected By High Court’s Video Ruling

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