Preserving Rare VHS Tapes

Did you know that about half of the films released on VHS tapes haven’t been issued on DVD, Blu Ray or as a digital download? There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Ultimately what it means, however, is that there are a number of very rare VHS tapes in the world. Using my services to convert them to DVD is a secure way of preserving them.

In this article we will look at the reasons why there are a number of rare VHS tapes around. Many of them are of a high value – both financially and sentimentally. As usual, I am going to use an example from my own collection to illustrate.

rare VHS starstruck 1982

That’s my VHS copy of the film Starstruck. It’s an ex-rental copy from Australia and was bought in 1983. As you can see the VHS box for it has seen better days! This tape has had quite a history, though. Other than being played hundreds of times, it’s moved with me between Australia, England and South Africa over the last 30 or so years.

Why do we have rare VHS tapes?

Many people are surprised by how many films, documentaries and music videos are available only on rare VHS tapes. In this day and age we know that producing DVDs, Blu Rays and digital downloads is a lot cheaper than manufacturing video cassettes.

The main reason for so many VHS (and indeed Betamax) releases not making it to new formats is money. Whilst producing the discs or downloads is low cost, studios and rights holders would have other expenses. These include digitally remastering the footage for a digital release as well as paying royalties to those involved in the production. Releasing some films in a new format is simply not economically viable.

In respect of my example, Starstruck did get a DVD release. This, however, was a very limited one, with the film being made available in this format in the USA only. As a lover of the film, I of course purchased this at great expense!

Starstruck DVD rare VHS

When I got the DVD version I discovered something very interesting. I had no idea that the VHS copy was edited. The changes were made to fit the film onto a shorter, cheaper length VHS. One of the biggest surprises for me to find was an entire musical number – It’s Not Enough – had been removed from the VHS release from the original theatrical version.

Another reason for rare VHS tapes not being available in other formats is when the rights to the film end up in a “legal limbo”. Over the years a number of film and video distribution companies have ceased to exits. In some cases this means that no one is sure who has the legal right to claim ownership or release a number of films, documentary and music videos.

Are rare VHS tapes valuable?

The short answer is yes. This, however, is normally in terms of sentimental value rather than financial. Although there are some high profile examples of rare VHS tapes selling for values over £1,000, usually the value of them is around the same you would expect to pay for a new DVD or Blu Ray disc.

Sentimental value is, however, one you can rarely put a price on. I dearly love my rare VHS copy of Starstruck and would not part with it for the world, despite the monetary value being relatively low.

Any video you have which is dear to you is of value. It’s always wonderful when I can help someone in bringing back their memories by converting their dearly loved VHS tapes to DVD.

rare VHS startstruck video cassette

Do rare VHS tapes  converted to DVD come out in good quality?

This is an important and understandable question. The answer, however, varies for each and every tape. In terms of the work I do in converting VHS to DVD, I make the best possible quality conversion, but that is limited to how good the condition of the cassette is.

In respect of the example used here, this video has experienced substantial use and has travelled far. As I did all I could to look after the tape the quality has held up remarkably well. I have added some examples of my VHS to DVD conversion of this Starstruck video to The Taper’s You Tube channel  . Here you can see the the opening video logo for Australian Video, as well as a version of it which includes Star Video.

I have not added any scenes from the film to the You Tube channel. This leads to the last, perhaps most important, question you may have.

Is it legal to transfer rare VHS tapes to DVD?

UK copyright law states that you must obtain the permission of the copyright holder before you copy or transfer any copyrighted material from one format to another. To the letter of the law the answer, then, is no. In practical terms, however, the intention has significant bearing.

A good comparison to make is music CDs. Did you know that, in respect of the above, it is not legal to make copies of the CDs you own to either make discs for your car or play on an mp3 player? There are, however, millions of people who do this. Record companies have always been reluctant to enforce this law, as ultimately it is consumers choosing to listen to music they have legally bought in a different way. They would rather – understandably – pursue those who copy CDs to sell, or make them available for download from the internet.

The same is true of converting rare VHS tapes to DVD. If your intention is to simply watch the video in an easier to access format then it is unlikely any possible legal recourse would even be considered, let alone taken. Should the intention be to convert to sell or distribute, however, then it is highly likely legal action would be taken.

In respect of the work I do, for the most part I am asked to transfer home movies to DVD. When someone asks me to convert an original VHS tape to DVD I do so on the condition that they agree it is being made for the exclusive, personal use of my client. Further, I always investigate the title. Should the film be available on DVD or as a digital download then I direct my client to this and decline to accept the work.

Bringing back your memories

Yes, it is strange that someone would turn down business! I do, however, wish to ensure that both me and my clients stay within both the law and the general understanding of its application when it comes to copyright.

If you have a rare VHS tape that you want converted to DVD then please get in touch with me. I will gladly help you check if the title is indeed available on either DVD, Blu Ray or as a digital download. Should it not be, I will be of service, mindful of the above comments.

Should you, like me, be a fan of the film Starstruck  then you might like this article about the soundtrack album.


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