Inherent Vice

Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright

Inherent Vice

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 54 illustrations Published: May 2009

Cultural Studies, Law > Legal Theory, Media Studies > Digital Media

In an age of digital technology and renewed anxiety about media piracy, Inherent Vice revisits the recent analog past with an eye-opening exploration of the aesthetic and legal innovations of home video. Analog videotape was introduced to consumers as a blank format, essentially as a bootleg technology, for recording television without permission. The studios initially resisted VCRs and began legal action to oppose their marketing. In turn, U.S. courts controversially reinterpreted copyright law to protect users’ right to record, while content owners eventually developed ways to exploit the video market. Lucas Hilderbrand shows how videotape and fair use offer essential lessons relevant to contemporary progressive media policy.

Videotape not only radically changed how audiences accessed the content they wanted and loved but also altered how they watched it. Hilderbrand develops an aesthetic theory of analog video, an “aesthetics of access” most boldly embodied by bootleg videos. He contends that the medium specificity of videotape becomes most apparent through repeated duplication, wear, and technical failure; video’s visible and audible degeneration signals its uses for legal transgressions and illicit pleasures. Bringing formal and cultural analysis into dialogue with industrial history and case law, Hilderbrand examines four decades of often overlooked histories of video recording, including the first network news archive, the underground circulation of Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a feminist tape-sharing network, and the phenomenally popular website YouTube. This book reveals the creative uses of videotape that have made essential content more accessible and expanded our understanding of copyright law. It is a politically provocative, unabashedly nostalgic ode to analog.


Inherent Vice is a lively and perceptive look at the legal and social history of videotape, with an eye toward excavating the cultural antecedents of
today’s ‘user-generated’ media. It would be well suited for courses on media studies and legal or cultural history, and would interest anyone with a curiosity about the folk culture of entertainment and technology in the late twentieth-century United States.” — Alex S. Cummings, Visual Resources

Inherent Vice is an eloquent and provocative account of the unique possibilities of the home video format, and will be of great interest to anyone studying media policy, new media and moving image history and aesthetics.” — Lawson Fletcher, Media International Australia

Inherent Vice is an interesting read for everyone who’s involved with (new) media studies; it reminded me to be aware of mediation, the possible differences in accessing media, the aesthetic value of a format and the importance of the preservation of cultural memory. First I focused more on the music industry when I studied copyright’s survival, but now video tape has opened my eyes to an important history that could possibly change the future access to media content.” — Marc Stumpel, Masters of Media

Inherent Vice is not just a history of the labyrinth that is audiovisual copyright in the United States. It is an exploration of the tension between the top-down control of cultural products by their corporate producers and the (at times arguably) fair-use consumption and dissemination of these products. . . . Inherent Vice makes it clear that though the champions of access to audiovisual information have made many strides forward in the analog era, those champions must once more step up to the plate in the digital era.” — Jimi Jones, Moving Image

“Hilderbrand not only successfully recuperates analog video to constructive ends, but he also provides a language with which to discuss it. Anyone interested in the relationships among institutions, the law, personal and cultural memory, and pleasure will be enriched by this work, while videophiles will be especially rewarded by the attentiveness it shows to the format they cherish.” — Lauren S. Berliner, Popular Communication

“Hilderbrand’s book is broadly relevant to anthropologists for the attention it gives to textual appropriation’s subversive potential. This is not a new theme, but it is one that more anthropologists need to be reminded of in the context of contemporary debates over intellectual property and cultural appropriation.” — Josh Berson, Reviews in Anthropology

“The salutary achievement of Lucas Hilderbrand’s Inherent Vice is to show that much of how we think about fair use today derives from debates over the rise of analog videotape in the 1970s and its widespread use in the 1980s and 1990s. . . . Hilderbrand’s case studies illuminate landmarks in videotape’s history of contesting copyright law to forge new repositories of memory, experience, and communication.” — Kinohi Nishikawa, Information Society

“Written from a critical-cultural perspective and tightly focused on medium specificity, copyright, and use and distribution, the book offers valuable methodological and historiographical contributions to a field of video scholarship significantly shaped by sociological, ethnographic, and industry-oriented methodologies.” — Kit Hughes, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

Inherent Vice, with its blend of history and legal analysis, helps place video and videotape recorders in their rightful place in the history of copyright in the U.S. and provides food for thought and continued debate over the role of copyright in the digital revolution. It is an interesting read for scholars of law and culture.” — Marc H. Greenberg, IP Law Book Review

“[A] sort of love song to the VCR—one much needed in this age of YouTube. . . . Hilderbrand presents a strong case that personal recording technologies (in both analog and digital forms) represent a crucial site for both political struggle and public action, even civil disobedience—implicitly warning that fair use is something that needs to be fought for or else it will be subsumed by copy-protection schemes and corporate enclosure.” — Gerry Canavan, Independent Weekly

“[A]n engaging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking work. . . . [T]his book . . . reveals that although a certain kind of video may be dead, it lives on in myriad related forms and remains vital to understanding our cultural identities.” — Daniel Herbert, Scope

“[An] intelligent, illuminating account of an understudied medium. . . . [I]f you, like me, are tired of having the same old present-minded conversation about illegal downloads, Hilderbrand will help change the terms of that conversation in productive ways by adding a layer of history too long ignored.” — Lisa Gitelman, Technology and Culture

“Hilderbrand . . . takes on a complex tangle of cultural history, moving-image aesthetics, and copyright law. . . . The crucial issues are those of access and interactivity. . . . These are precisely the uses that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was desgined to suppress. This book offers a persuasive argument that we should be moving in a very different direction.” — Dave Kehr, Film Comment

"...Inherent Vice is a lively and perceptive look at the legal and social history of videotape, with an eye toward excavating the cultural antecedents of today’s 'user-generated' media. It would be well suited for courses on media studies and legal or cultural history, and would interest anyone with a curiosity about the folk culture of entertainment and technology in the late twentieth century United States."   — Alex Sayf Cummings, Tropics of Meta

Inherent Vice does more than anything else I’ve read to bring together aesthetic analysis and intellectual property studies. It offers a beautifully conceived historical study of the ‘medium specificity’ of videotape and an eloquent defense of video in a world populated by film aesthetes and digital utopians. I learned a lot from this book and it helped me to think in new ways about analog media.” — Jonathan Sterne, author of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

“By taking up the theme of analog videotape bootlegging in an era of aggressive digital rights management, Lucas Hilderbrand provides a timely and important window on the issues at stake in the creative commons movement. At the same time, he makes extremely interesting and valuable contributions to scholarship on the aesthetics of new media through his explorations of the affective dimensions of videotape, the implications of its ephemeral quality, and the interactivity its new technologies enabled.” — Timothy Lenoir, Kimberly J. Jenkins Chair of New Technologies and Society, Duke University


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of illustrations ix

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xxi

Part I. Videotape and Copyright

Introduction: The Aesthetics of Access 1

Video Clip: Diasporic Asian Video Markets in Orange County 27

1. Be Kind, Rewind: The Histories and Erotics of Home Video 33

Video Clip: Chiller Theatre Toy, Model, and Film Expo 73

2. The Fairest of Them All? Home Video, Copyright, and Fair Use 77

Part II. Case Studies

3. The Revolution Was Recorded: Vanderbilt Television News Archive, Copyright in Conflict, and the Making of TV History 115

Video Clip: Experimental Film on Video: A Frameworks Debate 157

4. Grainy Days and Mondays: Superstar and Bootleg Aesthetics 161

Video Clip: Tape Art 191

5. Joanie and Jackie and Everyone They Know: Video Chainletters as Feminist Community Network 195

Epilogue: YouTube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge 225

Timeline 245

Notes 251

Bibliography 287

Index 311
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4376-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4353-0
Publicity material