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Valenti's "Boston Strangler" Testimony 320

Seth Schoen writes "'I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.' Jack Valenti said this in 1982 in testimony to the House of Representatives on why the VCR should be illegal. He also called the VCR an "avalanche" and a "tidal wave", and said it would make the film industry "bleed and bleed and hemorrhage". This speech is an important part of history, yet until today it had never been published on-line in its entirety. Valenti's testimony was published today by Cryptome. It's essential background reading if you want to see just how little the MPAA's arguments have changed in two decades." Compare to the Analog Hole document and they're virtually identical (except Valenti was playing on anti-Japanese sentiment then, and today it's anti-pirate sentiment). Of course, the MPAA was unsuccessful in plugging the "VCR Hole" - insufficient lobbying and clueful judges stopped them. The MPAA successfully adapted to the changing times and today sells about 70 million cassettes for rentals and 600 million cassettes for home viewing every year (both numbers are on the decline due to the rise of DVD).
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Valenti's "Boston Strangler" Testimony

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  • And Now (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ipxodi ( 156633 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:17PM (#3619335) Homepage
    And now the industry makes more money on video rentals than on the theatrical release.
    Kind of amazing that they are lobbying so hard against DVD and electronic distribution when any sane person can see the amazing profit potential on the horizon.
    Valenti's a nitwit.
  • by davmct ( 195217 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:26PM (#3619387)
    the relative ease to which you can now transfer content between people. Sure, you could make VHS copies of movies in your basement, but you were still limited to physical distribution. Now that distribution is effectively uncapped, the MPAA and RIAA realize their nest eggs are being poached.
    The biggest problem with all of this is the lack of concern of the RIAA/MPAA towards their customers. Sure, you will always have a few people hacking and stealing content, but if the movie/music industry realized that the standard of economy is based on the supply/demand chain, they would realize a better way to combat this 'theft'.

    I, myself, am an avid DVD-collector, and have quite a repository built. I have no qualms with paying good money to buy a good movie. But what I do expect is for the MPAA to be competitive. Since there are no other options THAN the MPAA, we are all held up to paying 20-35$ for a DVD, which in all reality may only be worth 15-20$. What the MPAA must realize is that their competition is now the free route, and the only way to combat this is to
    a) lower prices
    b) provide extras to create a competitive advantage

    I'd surely shell out 14 bucks to watch AoTC on a big screen over having to watch a pirated version that shakes like a hyperactive child sucking on a lollipop. Sure, there will be the cheapskates that will watch it for free, but those were never really customers of the MPAA anyway.
    The MPAA needs to get back to the business of making movies, and distributing the "extras" that make it worthwhile buying.
  • by jamieo ( 22197 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:27PM (#3619391) Homepage
    The media industry (music and film) are so stangnent it's unbelievable.

    MP3 and digital music was (actually still is) a chance for them to make lots of money in new ways.

    The same goes for digital TV/films, yet they can't see it. I actually worked in Digital TV a while and I don't have any faith in these companies being able to pull off anything worthwhile for the public due to the anal retentives in the media industry.

    PVRs are great - the public love them. However, they're by no means the statan to media companies. PVRs will change, allowing targeted programming, targetted adverts, pay per view, etc. Nerds will hate it (I do), but it will happen.

    But that's only the start. PVRs are not long for this world, as a set top box anyway. The future will be PVRs in the network - no set top box, no limited 40Gb storage - it will all work in the back end for you. Not only will this offer PVR like functionality but it will bring the reality of video on demand and targeted programming to the masses.

    When this happens, the big media companies will be able to make more money from it than they can from their current distribution systems.

    If they kill this, their only hope is DVD and then they're opening themselves up to far more piracy.

    Personally, I hope all such companies burn in hell, but realistically they'll survive and continue to screw me over with content I don't want. Hopefully the digital revolution will give me a *bit* more choice.
  • DVD burners (Score:1, Insightful)

    by G0SP0DAR ( 552303 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:30PM (#3619409)
    It's funny how no one has said anything about DVD burners. I've already managed to copy many DVD's _for my own personal backup_, so just imagine what one of those little buggers could do in the _wrong_ hands
  • by K8Fan ( 37875 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:32PM (#3619423) Journal
    Didn't the record companies say the same thing about audio tape?

    Audio tape? Hell, they said the same thing about radio, and sued to stop radio broadcasters.

    The said the same thing about imported LPs, DAT, used CDs, anything they could find to lay blame on to explain a temporary downturn in revenue. Increases in revenue are, of course, entirely due to their own brilliance.

    This is about what it always about - the lobbyist's desire to get the government to give their industry a handout. They used the introduction of DAT to get a tax passed on the units and blank tapes. As musicians and Deadheads are virtually the only people who buy DATs (other than data DATS for backup), they have been paying a tax that it delivered directly to the members of the RIAA.

    Forget welfare to the poor. It is dwarfed by Corporate Welfare.

  • Wolf! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cybermage ( 112274 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:41PM (#3619476) Homepage Journal
    Looks like the MPAA has turned into the boy who cried wolf. With any luck, a pattern of resisting technological innovation will ultimately serve to discredit them in the eyes of law makers.

    Both the MPAA and RIAA have resisted new technologies, like analog tape. In the past they were ultimately told to shut up and deal with it. Once they embraced the new technology, they found new markets.

    Now the battleground is digital movies. I'm confident that the industry will eventually be put in their place, and then we'll see what innovations follow. Maybe in a decade, movies will be released straight to home theatre. Perhaps we'll see an immersion style of theatre where you can watch the movie from within it, or even participate.

    I wish the industry would learn from their past and maybe try to be the ones innovating instead of the ones whining. They'd make more money dragging us into the future than the other way around.
  • Re:Wolf! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:42PM (#3619487)
    Uh movie you participate in = video game.
  • But what I do expect is for the MPAA to be competitive. Since there are no other options THAN the MPAA, we are all held up to paying 20-35$ for a DVD, which in all reality may only be worth 15-20$.

    But there are alternatives to the MPAA. Not every disk for sale in this country is made by a MPAA member. As people point out routinely in the standard "If /. is so anti-MPAA, why do they get so hyped about Anime DVDs" arguments, most of the small Anime distributors are not MPAA members. Not surprisingly, many of their disks are comparatively cheap, too. Most porn isn't produced by the MPAA, either.

    Even a lot of the MPAA-produced disks are pretty reasonable. If you look at older disks and older movies, you can frequently find things in the $10 range- even though they're big studio movies. This is what is always going to happen with products like computer games, DVDs, etc. where the initial cost is high but the unit cost is low. Prices are highest when the product is newly released, to capture as much money as possible from people willing to pay a premium for the newest thing. When the freshness wears off, the prices drop to try to get something from the people who aren't willing to pay that much.

  • by bay43270 ( 267213 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @05:01PM (#3619578) Homepage
    I think we should call programs that play DVD's but don't copy them 'crippleware' or 'defective' -- the MPAA calls them 'secure' -- I call them 'defective.' Even better, let's call anything related to copy restriction 'defective.' Defective implies an accident. CDs that can't be copied because of their extra data track were intentionally manufactured to be non-standard. I think a better word is "impaired". It shows intention.
  • by gblues ( 90260 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @05:04PM (#3619592)
    the relative ease to which you can now transfer content between people. Sure, you could make VHS copies of movies in your basement, but you were still limited to physical distribution. Now that distribution is effectively uncapped, the MPAA and RIAA realize their nest eggs are being poached.

    The "unlimited distribution" myth has been repeated by everyone from New Economists to Technologists to lawmakers. But, no amount of repetition makes it any more true.

    Distribution on the Internet is not an economy of scale. In fact, it is exactly the opposite! With economies of scale, the cost of production approach zero with an increase of output--e.g. it costs less to produce 10,000 than it does 100.

    The Internet does not work this way. As your production levels increase, production costs go up--often logarithmically. In other words, it costs many times more to distribute 100GB per month than it does to distribute 10GB per month.

    What about peer-to-peer, you ask? Peer-to-peer networks rely on the uneconomical nature of high-speed Internet. This market is beginning to correct itself as the ISPs cap the bandwith of bandwidth hogs. Eventually, the peer-to-peer networks will be the proverbial victims of their own success. People will stop using them when the ISP bill runs into the triple digits.

    Therefore, even if DVD were completely unencrypted, it would be more expensive to download the 13+GB DVD than it would to simply travel to your local video store and purchase a legal copy.

    In fact, if you factor in the time it takes to download the rips/theater screeners, it is already more expensive. However, expect the implicit cost to transform into explicit costs (in terms of higher ISP bills) in the near future.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 31, 2002 @05:53PM (#3619856)
    "Content Industry" is really the "Copyright Industry."

    They don't produce content at all, that's what the bands and authors and actors do. All these guys do is milk the artificial restrictions that copyright imposes on distribution.
  • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <> on Friday May 31, 2002 @05:56PM (#3619873) Homepage

    There's clearly more than one dynamic at work in the price drops. If the goal were simply to clear out old inventory, you wouldn't see some of the strategies that are actually used. In computer games, for instance, it's common to take an older title, repackage it in the cheapest possible packaging (like just a CD, with all manuals in electronic format), and sell it for a steep discount. Or sometimes game sellers will package several games that previously sold separately in a single package- or even on a single CD- for much less than the price of the games separately. That doesn't make sense as part of inventory reduction, since it involves pressing new disks and making new packaging, but does make sense if the goal is to get money from people unwilling or unable to pay for the latest, greatest games.

    Selling boxed sets of CDs or DVDs is pretty much the same thing. A seller will first sell the disks separately. After a some time, they'll see sales dropping and will repackage the individual disks into a single boxed set that's cheaper than buying the disks separately. You'll see this all the time with anime DVDs. A series will be released first as individual disks. About a year after the last disk in the series comes out, they'll come out with a boxed set containing the whole series (or one season, for really long series) that sells for 30-50% less than the individual disks. Those boxed sets keep selling for a long time, so you know it's not just to clear out old inventory. It's because they know that the real fanatics have already bought the thing, and now they can only get money from other people by lowering the price.

  • by sudog ( 101964 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @06:01PM (#3619910) Homepage into each and every consumer-grade VCR out there. It's called Macrovision people. When was the last time you tried to record a video cassette (that you bloody well BOUGHT, no less) onto a temporary copy so you could better preserve the original in an archive?

    Uh huh. Thought so.

    They just want to do the same thing to digital devices. It's just proving a lot harder to do. But for all your belly-aching and all your complaining about how information wants to be free, digital devices are too uncontrollable, too hackable, to maintain the threshold of expertise required to bypass them. (Witness DeCSS and descendants!)

    Not everyone can double-click and magically cause a de-macrovision device to pop up so they can record from one VCR to another. They have to either fork out $$ to buy a device, or be advanced enough with analog devices and time-signals to build one themselves. Macrovision turned out to be an extremely effective form of copy protection. Unfortunately broadcast signals are so full of ads and trimmed to fit the schedules of the networks that there's not much point in using them as an alternative. Broadcast is not on-demand programming.

    Now, anyone can rip and re-encode a DVD. Just go to, it's all right there.

    You're insane if you expect to come out of this with devices that are clean from the touch of the MPAA. But the fact that you're fighting for that means that the MPAA won't get away with true murder--just a relatively minor assault. The more outfield you go, the further towards your position the compromise will be.
  • A little math. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @06:39PM (#3620146) Journal
    70 million cassettes at $80 (rental stores pay full price) plus 600 million at $14 (a savings of over 80%!) is $11 billion.

    Total theatrical receipts last year? $11 billion. A new record.

    So Mr. Valenti basically called half the industry's income a "black hole".

    He's old, he's stupid, he's perfect for the job.

  • After reading a few paragraphs of this uninspired, poorly spoken testimony by Jack Valentini, I've come to the obvious conclusion: (1) He's racist or at least a demagogue; (2) He's a lying bastard; (3) He's incredibly fucking dumb; (4) He's a short sighted man; (5) Because of the above, we have no more reason to consider his paranoia about "infringement" today than we did back then.

    (1) He's a racist/demagogue. Its obvious from this that the man is racist. His remarks regarding the Japanese come in the category of "they're fucking us over" paranoia. If he's not a racist, he's at least a demagogue, willing to rile up people's sentiments to fulfill his ambitions. In other words, he's fine with the fact that his testimony leaves people with racist impressions, or that it leaves them irrationally stereotyping.

    (2) He's a lying bastard. This is an obvious point, as video tapes have no ruining the movie industry; in fact, they've made it stronger. Why should we trust what he says now? Its motivated by the same paranoia as was what he said back then?

    (3) He's incredibly fucking dumb. Well, if he's not (2) a lying bastard, he's (3) incredibly fucking dumb. If he sincerely believed that video's would ruin his industry, he's obviously fucking dumb. The past 20 years have proven that. So, why should we value the paranoid predictions of a fucking idiot? He's sort of like those religious idiots who were claiming apocalypse was coming at the millenium, 2000. Then it didn't come. So they said, "oh wait, the millenium's really 2001 because there was no year 0". Well, apocalypse didn't come then either. Now, they're backpeddling. See the parallels between them and Valentini? He predicted doom once, and it didn't come. He's predicted and predicting doom now, and it still isn't coming.

    (4) & (5): He's an incredibly short-sighted man, and we shouldn't trust his paranoid prophecies any more now than should we have back them. These points follow as obvious consequences of the previous points.

  • by Theodore Logan ( 139352 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @07:29PM (#3620365)

    Don't be so hard on him. After all, it was you who mixed up a) physical distribution with b) distribution and then somehow amazingly got them both confused with c) distribution cost which you in turn mistook to mean d) distribution cost per unit.

    In summary, while you may have refuted a most confused claim that noone ever made, it was perhaps unnecessary to begin your analysis with "Bullshit." in bold. Apart from that, I applaud your insightful, albeit irrelevant and incoherent, rebuttal of some argument you picked up at, uh, New Economist?

    Come to think of it, you probably misunderstood what they said too.

  • by tchdab1 ( 164848 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @07:37PM (#3620403) Homepage
    From Mr. Valenti's testimony:
    "The single centralizing principle on which this whole rostrum rests is this: If you cannot own, if what you own cannot be protected, you don't own anything and that goes for Clint Eastwood or the most obscure person in this industry or anybody in any industry. If what you own cannot be protected, you own nothing."

    I can't help interpreting Mr. Valenti's comments from my perspective: if I can't protect what I have bought, I own nothing. If you still control what you have sold me, I have been ripped off.
  • by gilroy ( 155262 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @09:00PM (#3620830) Homepage Journal
    Blockquoth the poster:

    Everyone commits copyright infringement at some point, and most people try to stop others from infringing their copyrights.

    If everyone, in the course of their normal living, infringes on copyright -- if even the most rabid anti-"pirate" mouthpiece out there infringes without blinking and without shame -- then perhaps ... just perhaps ... this is evidence that the whole copyright regime is a house of cards based upon fighting an unwinnable battle via an untenable strategy. If everyone think it's OK, what sense or meaning does it have to call it illegal?
  • by zzyzx ( 15139 ) on Saturday June 01, 2002 @09:58AM (#3622269) Homepage
    Argh, I meant "life" of course.

    Stupid not hitting the preview button first...

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.