I believe that the legal progresses that were made in the 80s when the first VCRs came out allowed people to record on a physical object, and own, copyrighted media (TV shows, films, documentaries, etc), legally.

Today, modern technology usually rules out using VCRs (or DVD recorders) to capture a work while it's being broadcasted, which has numerous downsides such as losing your recordings whenever you upgrade, difficulty to share with friends, publishers removing their own content, etc.

If someone installed a TV in their house and plugged in a recording device such as a VCR or DVD recorder today, would it be legal for them to record media and share their tapes with their friends?

Or did the law remove this right from the users at some point?

3 Answers 3


In Australia at least I am not sure that the usage you describe has ever been legal.

The University of Melbourne Copyright Office sets out when you may copy a television program for personal use and fair dealing for research and study.

In short for personal use, you may:

  • use any format you like - if you can find a working VCR; go for it.
  • Not lend or sell the material; it must be for your own private use. This means you must be there when it is displayed and it must be in a private place. For example, you can invite friends to your place or go to a friends place and watch it together.
  • The thing you are copying must be legal - you must have bought the original, have a current pay TV subscription (at time of recording) or it must be a free-to-air broadcast.
  • Ok, thanks. This case is very famous and gave users in countries where VCRs were sold a lot of power back in the days. Powers I think users might have lost... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. Sep 7, 2015 at 5:36

In the United Kingdom, it has never been legal to share a recording. Timeshifting is specifically allowed by the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988:

  1. Recording for purposes of time-shifting.

    (1) The making in domestic premises for private and domestic use of a recording of a broadcast solely for the purpose of enabling it to be viewed or listened to at a more convenient time does not infringe any copyright in the broadcast or in any work included in it.

However sub-sections (2) and (3) define that a recording which was originally intended for timeshifting but is subsequently "sold or let for hire, offered or exposed for sale or hire or communicated to the public" becomes an infringing copy.

  • Was unlawful sharing of VHS tapes ever enforced by any right holder there? Sep 7, 2015 at 20:40
  • 1
    I'm not aware of any action (and it would be a magistrates' or county court case, which is not easily searched), but the lack of a complaint doesn't make it legal. The explicit permission to copy for time-shift purposes was inserted into CDPA to make lawful a widespread practice which was illegal up to that time, but unenforceable. Sep 8, 2015 at 6:27

As with the other countries cited, in the US it has long been legal to record a broadcast for personal use since 1984: See, for example, Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.

It has never been legal to share such a recording.


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