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An Irishman in Silicon Valley: John Ryan, Macrovision, and the Development of Anti-Piracy Technology

April 15 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Speaker(s): Prof Bernard Carlson

Affiliation: University of Virginia

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In 1976, Sony introduced the Betamax videorecorder which allowed consumers to record movies and television shows at home. Betamax alarmed Hollywood since new copyright laws in the US seemed to indicate that home recording was a form of “fair use.” In response, Universal Studios and Disney sued Sony, and the case went to the US Supreme Court. In 1984, the Court ruled that home recording was indeed fair use. In response to this ruling, John Ryan, a former engineer at Ampex developed techniques that prevented the illegal duplication of movies. With Victor Farrow, Ryan launched a new company, Macrovision, and convinced the Hollywood studios to add their technology when manufacturing videotapes. Thanks to Macrovision, the Hollywood studios were able to create videotapes that could be rented or sold, and video sales soon became a major source of revenue for the studios. Ryan’s technology became the standard for video copy protection and can be found today in virtually every DVD player and cable/satellite decoder.

Prof W. Bernard Carlson is the Joseph L. Vaughan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia. Bernie is a historian of technology who studies the careers of inventors and entrepreneurs in order to educate future engineering leaders.

He founded and directs the Technology Entrepreneurship program in UVa Engineering which helps students and faculty develop ideas. During 2019/20 he will be based at NUI Galway as a visiting lecturer in entrepreneurship on the Techinnovate programme.