The format wars and legal battles that marked home video’s early history
have seemingly been rewound and replayed repeatedly in the age of peer-
to-peer file-sharing networks, online video streaming, and hd dvd format
competition. This book seeks to rethink videotape’s recent histories from the
vantage point of a cultural moment when dvd (and increasingly downloaded
and streaming video) has eclipsed videotape as the primary home video for-
mat and when both the entertainment industry and the government have
sought to clamp down on “piracy.” Any device that has been widely adopted
and altered audience uses is necessarily of its own moment and might even-
tually evoke nostalgia once it becomes (theoretically or actually) obsolete.
In fact, the appearance of home video in the mid-1970s might be said to be
culturally linked to the purported nostalgia craze of the time by making old
movies and syndicated shows recordable for reviewing.1
In this book I situate videotape and vcrs culturally—through popular
rhetoric, market shifts, legal regulations, and love stories. The book, in turn,
can be situated in dialogue with cinema and television studies, histories of
new media, critical legal studies, and copyleft advocacy. A substantial body
of literature has analyzed the theories and uses of video, yet such work has
not captured all the cultural meanings, experiences, or prevalent uses of
videotape. One survey of the academic literature on video claimed a lack of
critical consensus on video specificity except that it has no specificity.2 A
wave of foundational scholarship about video, which extended from British
television and cultural studies and American postmodern theory, appeared
in the late 1980s and early 1990s.3 Other work oriented toward history or the
social sciences reflects varied disciplinary approaches to video. On the socio-
logical and ethnographic end of communications approaches, researchers
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