VHS Media Policy
Princeton Theological Seminary Library Policy and Guidelines on Reformatting and Use of VHS Media
This document describes the policy and practices of PTS Library regarding reformatting and use of VHS media, with particular focus on what assistance the Library can legally and practically provide to faculty in the use of video content in VHS format for teaching and research.
This document incorporates guidelines from Video At Risk: Strategies for Preserving Commercial Video Collections in Libraries, which is essentially an exegesis of Subsection 108(c) of U.S. copyright law.
Nothing in this document constitutes legal advice. If in doubt, consult an attorney.
Clarifications of §108(c)
Subsection 108(c) of U.S. copyright law (see Appendix 1 below) allows libraries to make a “replacement” copy of a published work if a library-owned copy “is damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete,” although two conditions must be met first: (1) the library “has, after a reasonable effort, determined that an unused replacement cannot be obtained at a fair price,” and (2) a copy “that is reproduced in digital format is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library.”
§108(c) applies to published works in any format, but regarding VHS media, the terms “deteriorating” and “obsolete” are key. Whereas “lost” and “stolen” are self-explanatory and “damaged” suggests physical damage (e.g. a mangled or broken tape or a crushed casing), the term “deteriorating” is subjective and not defined by §108(c). There are two schools of thought here among media preservation experts. While some argue that magnetic tape is continually deteriorating by its very nature — that is, in its chemical composition—the widely accepted practice in research libraries requires perceptible degradation of the video signal (visual dropout, audio dropout, color loss or alteration, etc.) to justify making a replacement copy under §108(c). However, the only way to determine such degradation is to observe the video signal during playback in real time; there are no established standards for measuring deterioration, and such assessments are very time consuming.
Counter-intuitively, VHS is not an obsolete format at this time, legally speaking. As §108(c) defines it, “a format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or device necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.” Although stand-alone VHS players are no longer manufactured, “combination” VHS/DVD player-recorders are still manufactured, since there is still a market for consumer-level reformatting machines.
For these reasons, preemptive reformatting is not a legally safe practice at this time. When this situation changes, the Library will update its policy accordingly.
Steps the Library Is Taking
1. Proactive Assessment and Replacement
Although technically the Library holds 1,700 VHS items, they do not represent a coherent collection or hold uniform relevance for the Seminary’s curriculum. The Collection Development Librarian, Dr. Jeremy Wallace, has undertaken an assessment of the situation based on library data. Many VHS titles indicate 20 to 30 year-old videos on scientific topics or social issues which the Library will review for preservation needs. Many others are out of scope, such as children’s content and mainstream Hollywood movies without apparent theological implications. Beyond this broad overview, Dr. Wallace has specifically assessed VHS items that (a) had been placed on reserve in the last 10 years (22 tapes) or (b) had been checked out 15 or more times in the last 5 years (91 tapes). Of these 113 tapes, 73 titles (64%) have been acquired in DVD format. Eight titles are available on DVD but at a high cost; these items will be considered for acquisition only on request, not proactively. Four items are in scope but not available on DVD. The remainder are out of scope or outdated.
2. On-Demand Replacement
The Library encourages faculty members to contact the Collection Development Librarian when they need or expect to utilize Library-held, VHS-only content for teaching or research. In some cases a DVD equivalent may be available. If not, the Library may be able to make a replacement copy under §108(c), or the faculty member may have other options under §107 (fair use; see Appendix 2 below).
Options for Faculty
This section outlines practical options for faculty members who want to utilize VHS content for teaching or research.
- Notify the Collection Development Librarian: Given sufficient advance notice, the Collection Development Librarian will determine the appropriate course of action and coordinate with Library staff.
- Unused DVD: Library staff will search for “an unused replacement” in the marketplace “at a fair price.” If a DVD equivalent is available at a reasonable price, the Library will acquire it.
- Unused VHS: If an unused DVD equivalent is not available but an unused VHS copy is, the Library will not make a DVD replacement copy under §108(c). See B or C below.
- Replacement copy under §108(c): If an unused replacement is not available at a fair price, the Collection Development Librarian, given at least two weeks’ notice, will work with technical staff in the Digital Scholarship Center (DSC) to use DSC equipment to assess the VHS tape for signs of deterioration. If degradation of the video signal is perceptible, library staff will reformat the content to DVD, add it to the collection, and retire the VHS original (so that the DVD is truly a “replacement copy,” not an addition). Since DVD is a “digital format,” the DVD copy cannot be circulated at the same level of access as the VHS original; the DVD copy is legal only if it “is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library or archives.” Nevertheless, although “the public” is not defined anywhere in §108, there is no reason to believe that any gathering of persons is “the public.” Playing such a DVD in a classroom outside the Library should probably be considered defensible under both §108(c) and §107. Alternatively, the faculty member can place the DVD replacement copy on reserve in the Library.
- Place the VHS tape on reserve: The faculty member can place the VHS tape on reserve in the Library, and students can view the tape in the Digital Scholarship Center (DSC) using DSC equipment.
- Play the VHS tape in class: IT Services has purchased a VHS player that plays VHS (analog) tapes but provides HDMI (digital) output, for compatibility with digital projectors, Smart Boards, etc. As of this writing, this VHS player is in the IT office in the Library. With advance notice to IT, playing a VHS tape in class is an option. To request VHS playback in a classroom, submit the Media Request Form: https://its.ptsem.edu/av
Note on faculty-owned VHS tapes: If a VHS tape is a personal copy of the faculty member, not held by the Library, the options are the same as in B or C above.
Note on DVD players in classrooms: As of this writing, IT intends to install a DVD player in every classroom that lacks one. Check with IT Services in advance to ensure that the necessary equipment is available in a given classroom before expecting to play a DVD in class.
Appendix 1: Text of §108(c)
§108. Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives
. . .
(c) The right of reproduction under this section applies to three copies or phonorecords of a published work duplicated solely for the purpose of replacement of a copy or phonorecord that is damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete, if—
(1) the library or archives has, after a reasonable effort, determined that an unused replacement cannot be obtained at a fair price; and
(2) any such copy or phonorecord that is reproduced in digital format is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library or archives in lawful possession of such copy.
For purposes of this subsection, a format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or device necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.
Appendix 2: Text of §107
§107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.