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Essay: Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc (Betamax)

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  • Published: 6 July 2019*
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  • Words: 853 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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The Supreme Court has made various legal decisions that have continuously influenced American sectorial processes. This paper, therefore, examines the case of Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. in 1984, otherwise known as the “Betamax case”. As per the assignment requirements, I, Yingying Lu certify, pursuant to the ethical guidelines contained in the University of Illinois Student Code, that I read the entire Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. case, and I have not copied any part of this paper from any source. The case is not difficult to read and it makes sense since it aimed to solve an ongoing controversy with business implications.
As per the case, the Supreme Court was faced with a legal question whether making recordings of complete television shows with an intention of time shifting constitutes the infringement of copyright. The Universal City Studios was suing Sony Corporation for manufacturing devices that allowed recording of copyrighted entertainment materials in homes entertainment arena. This had been an issue of contention in the film industry especially from Walt Disney and Universal Studios Company, and they were expecting that congressional amendments in copyright protection laws would institute new protectionist principles at the time.
Since the companies opted for the court approach, the case has provided several lessons; some are agreeable, while others require further analysis for enhanced comprehension. I agree with the ruling since Sony, as the manufacturer of video records and their constituent formats, is not liable for any form of infringement. The other part of the ruling states that recording of complete shows amounts to fair usage since the content is transmitted over publicly available mechanisms. This ruling was based on the fact that the court outlined that the sale of copying equipment could not have led to liability since the manufacturer did not know if they could be used in that particular manner by buyers.
The lesson that can be learned from the case concerns the nature of the judiciary system in terms of legal powers, jurisprudence, and adoption of legal precedents when handling major industrial issues. Since Congress had not provided frameworks for dealing with such cases, the court was obligated to construct a scope of rights that had not been created by prior statute in relation to the caucus of interests. This is indicative of the procedural and power structure in the American judicial system and the way institutions complement each other whenever there are gaps. Thus, the case demonstrates that the system is complex and intricately interdependent with an aim of providing homogenous decisions on particular matters.
Another lesson comes from the nature in which the courts derive their rulings. It is true that the case was controversial. However, the ruling had to balance demand for protecting statutory monopolistic tendencies, rights of equipment owners and copyright owners. This is the underlying rationale for stating that sale of the copying equipment does not constitute infringement since the company and the clients had one point of contact: the sales office. Another consideration is that time-shifting something that was aired for free does not affect the content, and therefore does not constitute unfair use. Despite controversial standpoints among the justices, the ruling has taught that facts, logic, and balancing of partisan interests justly are the core of American justice system.
I also agree with the ruling since the rights of every party involved were considered and a fair process was used to come up with the final ruling. One of the justifications for supporting the ruling is that recording of free entertainment programs for time shifting cannot be considered as infringement. In addition, the recording does not cause harm in potential markets for the content or the value of works being provided as entertainment. On the other hand, Sony did not have the power to determine what customers did with their equipment; therefore, the company was not liable.
Reading this case and evaluation of the outcomes make sense in the dimension that companies must innovate, and the application of some features cannot be regulated since their utilization is based on individual decisions. Determination of whether recording was legal or illegal is grounded on personal judgments, and Sony had no way of making this feature discriminatory to the fact. Therefore, it was sensible not to rule the company liable because once the devices are sold, the company can no longer control how home users utilize the constituent features.
Another reason to agree with the ruling concerns the relevance of the case that Walt Disney and Universal Studios could not prove that the practice of recording with an aim of timesharing created business harm or affected the commercial value of the recordings. From a logical standpoint, this was an attempt to expand monopoly and control over freely aired content without any proof of future harm. Therefore, it was agreeably sensible to make such a ruling because it proved beneficial to entertainment providers like sporting representatives, who did not object since it improved their branding. In addition to that, suing companies sold more prerecorded movies increasing their revenue base thanks to this equipment from Sony.

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