You might still have one of these in a box in the attic, or gathering dust on a shelf in a closet.  At one time it was a ubiquitous appliance; a part of of everyday life, providing hours of home entertainment.  But just as quickly as it burst upon the scene, it was gone; strewn in the wake of the advancing march of technology.

This marvel of media was the Video Cassette Recorder, or what we all knew simply as the VCR.  Invented in 1956 by the Ampex Company, the first VCR had a price tag of a whopping $50,000 and was used exclusively by the television networks.  CBS was the first to employ the nascent technology when it recorded Douglas Edwards and the News on November 30, 1956, in New York and then replayed it a few hours later on the West Coast.  At that point TV changed forever, but it would be almost 30 years before the invention would be a staple in American households.

While the big three TV networks were quick to take advantage of the VCR, they had their collective heads stuck in the sand with how this new technology would affect television viewing.  Why would anyone want to record a TV show and watch it later?

But that's exactly what people did and the studios were apoplectic.  In 1976 Universal City Studios and Disney sued Sony in an effort to stop the production of the VCR because it was a "tool of piracy".  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and in 1984 the high court ruled that home video recording of television shows for later viewing was "fair use" and did not amount to copyright infringement, because it did not cause harm to the copyright holder.  The irony is that by the time the Supreme Court rendered its decision the big studios were making millions of dollars from the sale and rental of home videos.  (Remember Blockbuster?)

The tide of technology does not stand still.  By 2003 the sales of DVD's had overtaken those of VHS tapes and now the VCR is a museum piece.  DVD's will no doubt suffer the same fate at the hands of digital recording.

Today--June 7th--is National VCR Day, a day set aside to remember the device that started a revolution. No longer is our television viewing time determined by the producers of the product.  We can record whatever we want, and watch it whenever we want.  We can watch a TV series in single, weekly episodes or we can binge on several seasons at once.

So when you sit down to watch your digital recording of the new season of House Of Cards--whenever that may be--take a moment to remember the VCR hidden away in the attic. It fought all the way to the Supreme Court to secure your right to watch TV your way.



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