Technology

the VHS-era copy protection system that looked like something out of a horror movie B

“Warning: do not copy.” So far, nothing differentiates this VHS tape from so many others seen in the 80s and 90s: unauthorized copying of films was a headache for producers in the format’s glory years and distributors, who saw how, with a few connected videos, anyone could make copies of original films. Well, some image and sound quality was lost (a loss that increased with successive copies of copies, as it happened with audio cassettes), but the system served to create a lucrative black market outside of official channels.

The situation led to the appearance of anti-copying systems that made it impossible to view the copied tapes. One of the most famous was Macrovision, a system that took advantage of vertical blanking interval send voltage pulses that would interfere with the recorders. This affected the copies on two levels: there were very large dips in brightness, and colorless bands in the image, to which a third level was added over time, with distorted colors. At Xataka we talk about Macrovision and its (null) effect on the phenomenon of unauthorized copies in this article.

However, there have been times when companies they got more imaginative by coming up with systems that would deter respectable people from copying their VHS. Basically, lying in a terrific plan. Blogger Rani Baker has found a system that surprises with its open mouth and shamelessness when it comes to plotting a made-up threat, and He tells it in ‘Why I’m not an artist’.

The label in the image reads “Warning: DO NOT COPY! A virus programmed into this video tape is causing serious damage when recording a tape. NHV is not responsible for any fire or other damage in the event of duplicate attempt.” Huge hellfire threat that also comes from a third rate movie: ‘Nobody’s Perfect: How To Cope With Relapse’, a production about the behavioral conflicts they lead diets, and who edited National Health Video in 1991.

I tell you sincerely: I wish there was a virus that causes crazy spontaneous combustion of VHS players. But it was a invent of National Health Video, perhaps generated after a viewing, I imagine extremely rushed, of ‘Videodrome’. In any case, the strategy of what can be called the least educational video company in the world was not the only one. The copycat panic was the order of the day in the eighties.

Don’t copy, listen

In the pre-internet era, rumor about the effects an unauthorized copy could have on readers or the media was rife. Often these rumors came from the industry itself, which as noted in this excellent article from Cracked! it affected all forms of the entertainment industry. VHS would kill movies as television had done before it, cassettes would kill music as previously suspected, and books would kill literature. As we know, and the Diffusion and P2P have taught us in the digital age, none of this is done happening.

Warning label3

In this sense, the most famous for its madness is the warning that could be read in videos like “Cat Sitters” or “Dig Sitters”, which in theory kept the animals hypnotized in front of the screen. It read “IMPORTANT WARNING – PLEASE READ. This tape has been coated with a new substance called KTC to prevent illegal copying. The KTC only reacts when subjected to fluctuations in the magnetic head caused by the recording mode. If you have started recording this tape, we are required by law to advise you that KTC may damage your VCR. KTC will not affect your video in playback mode. KTC coated tape will not take effect for 15 seconds. STOP RECORDING NOW. Thank you for purchasing this video. Enjoy the show.”

These crazy anti-piracy inventions and more have been put together in one great episode of ‘Oddity Archive’ with anti-piracy techniques that also included the hair-raising videos of legal action threats that we already enjoyed in the days of DVD and P2P and were gloriously parodied in one of the best gags from ‘The IT Crowd’. We’ll talk about that on another occasion, but in any case, pay attention to what MC Double Def DP says: ‘Don’t copy that floppy’, and that it works for computer floppy disks but its tone might just be applied to VHS of the same era.


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