Back then, videotape recording machines were cutting edge and a type developed by Sony was fighting for its life. Since Sony’s Betamax-format recorders were able to record TV shows, studios including Universal and Disney sought to hold Sony liable for users’ alleged copyright infringements. In 1984 the Supreme Court ultimately sided with Sony but had the decision gone the other way, the chilling effect on the video market would’ve been incalculable.
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television
Through the prism of history, The Museum of Classic Chicago Television owes much to Sony’s win in the Betamax case; quite possibly its very existence. Like many labors of love, its beginnings were humble.
After finding a 1983 episode of “The Bozo Show” on an old videocassette, Rick Klein – today the museum’s president and lead curator – spotted himself and his brother in the audience. The trip down memory lane, punctuated by shifts in production values, fashions and commercial breaks, had him hooked.
“I was just blown away by seeing stuff I had forgotten,” Klein recalled in a 2021 interview. “That’s one of the things that becomes so addictive. You see something and remember. It’s just like a key going into a lock.”
Now close to reaching his own half century, Klein, and a number of like-minded individuals, still haven’t shaken the nostalgia bug, especially for old TV content shown locally in Chicago. In 2007, their growing collection of analog commercials, TV clips and other TV memorabilia, ventured into the all-digital online world. Tapes would stretch and snap no more but here, entire collections could be wiped out in an instant.
A New Beginning, New Life, New Dangers
After being reborn on YouTube as The Museum of Classic Chicago Television (MCCTv), the last sixteen years have been quite a ride. Over 80 million views later, MCCTv is a much-loved 501(c)(3) non-profit Illinois corporation but in just 48 hours, may simply cease to exist.
In a series of emails starting Friday and continuing over the weekend, Klein began by explaining his team’s predicament, one that TorrentFreak has heard time and again over the past few years. Acting on behalf of a copyright owner, in this case Sony, India-based anti-piracy company Markscan hit the MCCTv channel with a flurry of copyright claims. If these cannot be resolved, the entire project may disappear.
Time Running Out
Issuing copyright notices is core work for many anti-piracy companies. The problem for Klein and many others before him is that while YouTube suggests that disputes can be discussed with Markscan, an abundance of online reports beg to differ.
No matter whether takedowns are justified, unjustified (Markscan hit Sony’s own website with a DMCA takedown recently), or simply disputed, getting Markscan’s attention is a lottery at best, impossible at worst. In MCCTv’s short experience, nothing has changed.
“Our YouTube channel with 150k subscribers is in danger of being terminated by September 6th if I don’t find a way to resolve these copyright claims that Markscan made,” Klein told TorrentFreak on Friday.
“At this point, I don’t even care if they were issued under authorization by Sony or not – I just need to reach a live human being to try to resolve this without copyright strikes. I am willing to remove the material manually to get the strikes reversed.”
Complaints Targeted TV Shows 40 to 60 years old
Over the weekend Klein shared details of the copyright complaints filed with YouTube. Two of the claims can be seen in the image below and on first view, appear straightforward enough.
Two episodes of the TV series Bewitched dated 1964 aired on ABC Network and almost sixty years later, archive copies of those transmissions were removed from YouTube for violating Sony copyrights, with MCCTv receiving a strike.
A claim targeting an upload titled Bewitched – ‘Twitch or Treat’ – WPWR Channel 60 (Complete Broadcast, 8/6/1984) follows the same pattern, but what isn’t shown are the details added by MCCTv to place the episode (and the included commercials) in historical context.
(S0307, originally aired over the ABC Network, and therefore in Chicago via then-WBKB Channel 7, on October 27th 1966) as seen via a slightly worn copy on WPWR Channel 60. This episode featured legendary San Francisco Giants center fielder Willie Mays, a.k.a. ‘The Say Hey Kid,’ as himself.
Includes: Station ID (voiceover by Neal Sabin)
Show opening titles (1966 copyright – this was Bewitched’s first season in color)
Commercial: Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins
Episode Act I
Commercials for: DeVry Institute of Technology
Another takedown target – Bewitched – ‘Sam in the Moon’ (Complete 16mm Network Print, 1/5/1967) is accompanied by even more detail, including references in the episode to then-current events.
In this installment, Samantha and Endora have traveled to Tokyo, and when Darrin asks where they’d been, Sam tells him shed been to the moon – and Darrin believes her.
(Historical Note related to the moonshot race: This was broadcast 22 days prior to the fire on board Apollo 1 that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee)
Given that copyright law locks content down for decades, Klein understands that can sometimes cause issues, although 16 years on YouTube suggests that the overwhelming majority of rightsholders don’t consider his channel a threat. If they did, the option to monetize the recordings can be an option.
No Competition For Commercial Offers
Why most rightsholders have left MCCTv alone is hard to say; perhaps some see the historical value of the channel, maybe others don’t know it exists. At least in part, Klein believes the low quality of the videos could be significant.
“These were relatively low picture quality broadcast examples from various channels from various years at least 30-40 years ago, with the original commercial breaks intact. Also mixed in with these were examples of ’16mm network prints’ which are surviving original film prints that were sent out to TV stations back in the day from when the show originally aired. In many cases they include original sponsorship notices, original network commercials, ‘In Color’ notices, etc.,” he explains.
These oddities, none of which would ever find their way into a commercial product, are historically significant; where else can viewers soak up the past while relieving soaking their face with the Clairol Skin Machine?
Unavailable elsewhere, these moments transform old TV broadcasts into entertaining history lessons, and Klein says that’s what people love about the channel.
“Watching vintage broadcasts or network film prints with commercials is the closest we can get to time-travelling through a TV or computer screen. Here is an actual recording, made in real time, at a specific moment in time, in a particular city, in the past – and you get to peek in through your time portal. That’s the appeal,” he says.
An Opportunity to Put Things Right
Klein says MCCTv certainly doesn’t set out to hurt copyright holders. However, there’s always a balance between preserving “rare pieces of video ephemera” and the likelihood that nobody needs to enforce any rights, versus unusual circumstances like these where unexpected complaints need to be resolved with impossible-to-reach parties.
Klein says the team is happy to comply with Sony’s wishes and they hope that given a little leeway, the project won’t be consigned to history. Perhaps Sony will recall the importance of time-shifting while understanding that time itself is running out for The Museum of Classic Chicago Television.