VCR Virus: the VHS-era anti-copy system that looked like something out of a B-series horror movie

“Warning: Do not copy.” So far, nothing differentiates this VHS tape from so many others that were seen in the eighties and nineties: unauthorized copying of films was a headache for producers in the glory years of the format and distributors, who saw how with a couple of connected videos anyone could make copies of original films. Okay, some image and sound quality was lost (loss that increased with successive copies of copies, as happened with the audio cassettes), but the system served to create a lucrative black market outside official channels.

The situation led to the appearance of anti-copy systems that made it impossible to view the copied tapes. One of the most famous was Macrovision, a system that took advantage of the vertical blanking interval to send voltage pulses that would interfere with the recorders. This affected the copies at two levels: there were very important drops in brightness, and bands without color in the image, to which a third level was added over time, with distorted colors. In Xataka we talk about Macrovision and its (null) effect on the phenomenon of copies without permission in this article.

However, there were times when companies they became more imaginative in coming up with systems that would dissuade the respectable from copying their VHS. Basically, lying in a tremendous plan. Blogger Rani Baker has found a system that is surprising for her mug and her open shamelessness when it comes to plotting an invented threat, and He tells it in ‘Why I’m not an Artist’.

The label on the image reads “Warning: DO NOT COPY! A virus programmed into this videotape causes serious damage when recording a tape. NHV is not responsible for fire or other damage if duplication is attempted.” Tremendous threat of hellish flames that also comes from a third-rate film: ‘Nobody’s Perfect: How To Cope With Relapse’ (‘”No one is perfect: how to deal with a relapse), a production about the behavioral conflicts to which they lead diets, and who edited National Health Video in 1991.

I tell you sincerely: I wish there was a virus that caused VHS players to go into crazy spontaneous combustion. But it was a invent from National Health Video, perhaps generated after a viewing, I imagine extremely rushed, of ‘Videodrome’. In any case, the strategy of what we can qualify as The World’s Least Educational Video Company was not the only one. Copy panic was the order of the day in the eighties.

Don’t copy, listen

In pre-internet times, the rumor mill about the effects that an unauthorized copy could have on players or media was very present. Many times those rumors came from the industry itself, which as listed in this great article from Cracked! it has affected all forms of the entertainment industry. VHS was going to kill movies just as television would before it, cassettes were going to kill music just as the phonograph had previously been suspected, and books would kill literature. As we know, and the streaming and P2P have taught us in digital times, none of that has finished happening.


In that sense, the most famous for how crazy it is, is the warning that could be read in videos like ‘Cat Sitters’ or ‘Dig Sitters’, which in theory kept pets hypnotized in front of the screen. It read “IMPORTANT WARNING – PLEASE READ. This tape has been coated with a new substance called KTC to prevent illegal copying. The KTC only reacts when subjected to magnetic head fluctuation caused by the recording mode. If you have started recording this tape, we are required by law to inform you that the KTC may damage your VCR. KTC will not affect your video in playback mode. The KTC-coated tape won’t take effect for another 15 seconds. STOP RECORDING NOW. Thank you for purchasing this video. Enjoy the show.”

These and other crazy anti-piracy inventions were collected in a great episode of ‘Oddity Archive’ with anti-piracy techniques that also included the hair-raising videos of threats of legal action that we already enjoyed in the days of DVD and P2P and that were gloriously parodied in one of the best gags of ‘The IT Crowd’. We’ll talk about them on another occasion, but in any case, pay attention to what MC Double Def DP has to say: ‘Don’t copy that floppy’, and that it works for computer floppy disks but its tone could well be applied to the VHS of the same era.

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VCR Virus: the VHS-era anti-copy system that looked like something out of a B-series horror movie