Video piracy was hardly a crime in 1982

An Ontario court ruled in 1982 that it wasn't a criminal offence to dub a video and then sell it. The movie business disagreed.

Penalty was a $10 fine per copy made, compared with $250,000 in the U.S.

Video piracy isn't a crime in Canada

40 years ago
Duration 2:04
Dubbing copies of movies on VHS tapes and selling them to video stores isn't a criminal offence, according to an Ontario court.

Once they had shelled out the cash for a video cassette recorder, they needed something to watch.

And in 1982, what a lot of the 250,000 VCR owners in Canada were watching were pirated videotapes — and that was giving the film industry a lot of grief.

"It claims it's being robbed of millions of dollars each year by a new type of bandit: the video pirate," said CBC reporter Vicki Russell for The National.

Pirates were dubbing illegal copies of popular movies, and in some cases making money by selling those copies under the counter to video rental stores.

A threat to creativity?

Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America said video piracy could "destroy the creative process in Canada and America." (The National/CBC Archives)

At Toronto's film festival earlier that month, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America came out hard against piracy.

"If this is allowed to continue undeterred, it can destroy the creative process in Canada and America," Jack Valenti told CBC. He was also seen making a speech before such film luminaries as Canadian-born director Norman Jewison. 

Russell said the MPAA was planning to open a security office in Toronto to track down the pirates, given how bad the problem had become in Canada.

But an Ontario county court wasn't sympathetic to the industry's complaint that piracy constituted fraud, and as such was subject to Canada's Criminal Code.

Pirates weren't frauds

In 1982, it wasn't against the Criminal Code of Canada to make a copy of a VHS movie release and sell it. (The National/CBC Archives)

The court said making a copy contravened copyright laws, but it wasn't a criminal offence.

"That only leaves protection from Canada's antiquated Copyright Act of 1924," explained Russell. "It provides a $10 fine for each illegal copy made."

By contrast, U.S. law could punish pirates with fines of up to $250,000 and five years in jail. 

The Canadian government was considering an update to the Copyright Act for the following year, but in the meantime the pirates could continue to rake in treasure via videotape.