Betamax Standard

What Does Betamax Standard Mean?

The Betamax standard (Beta) is a legal precedent set after the Universal City Studios, Inc. et al. v. Sony Corporation of America Inc. et al., lawsuit in 1984. Under this case ruling, digital content owners were authorized to copy content to other formats for personal use. More specifically, the court ruled that under copyright law, consumers were authorized to reproduce TV shows if the recordings were for personal use. Sony was targeted in the lawsuit because the company developed and sold the Betamax brand video recording format. Universal considered this format to be a threat to the intellectual property (IP) of its TV programs.


VHS eventually replaced the Betamax recorder, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruling is known as the Betamax standard because it set the stage for future copyright laws related to IT.

The Betamax standard is also known as the Betamax case.

Techopedia Explains Betamax Standard

The Betamax standard is still invoked today. For example, the U.S. recording industry is strongly opposed to the free – and sometimes paid – distribution of digital music and often applies the case to lawsuits in the U.S.

In A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit rejected the Betamax standard argument. Unlike Sony, Napster had the technology to monitor and control user activities to ensure adherence to copyright law. Thus, Napster was held liable for infringement. This decision was reversed in the MGM Studios Inc., et al v. Grokster, Ltd. case, as the popular Grokster service was used for non-infringing and legitimate activities. Ultimately, however, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Grokster could be held liable for infringement.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.