Lucas Hilderbrand
In his book, Lucas Hilderbrand, film & media studies assistant professor, explains how videotape transformed film-watching in America. The last Hollywood movie released on VHS was "A History of Violence" in 2006, and the last large-scale supplier of videotapes stopped production in 2008. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

As VHS tapes become a thing of the past, UC Irvine’s Lucas Hilderbrand doesn’t want us to forget the significant impact of analog media on American culture.

In a new book, the film & media studies assistant professor details how video technology transformed home entertainment by allowing consumers to view movies and TV programs at their leisure and redefined government interpretation of copyright laws.

“VHS held an important role in our society for three decades – from leading the home-video revolution to igniting format wars and legal battles over copyright-protected material,” says Hilderbrand, author of Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright.

“Knowing the history of analog helps us understand where we are today,” he says. “As technology shifts toward YouTube and other digital media, similar issues are occurring – such as the entertainment industry and government clamping down on piracy.”

Hilderbrand points to four key years in VHS’s rise and fall:

  • 1976: VHS VCR introduced; U.S. legislation redefines copyright holders’ rights and establishes fair-use standards for copyrighted material.
  • 1984: The U.S. Supreme Court decides recording TV programs is legal, protecting VCR users; dominance of VHS format firmly established as more than 10 percent of U.S. households own a VCR; Time and Newsweek magazines declare “video revolution.”
  • 1997: DVD introduced to consumers.
  • 2006: YouTube rapidly gains in popularity and is named Time magazine’s Person of the Year; “death” of VHS widely discussed; HD DVD and Blu-ray discs debut.

Hilderbrand believes the VHS format remains valuable: “Entertainment and electronics industries are trying to control circulation and duplication of their content. Analog allows you to legally use content in ways that digital media often do not.

“There is still a place for videotape.”