Looking back, it sometimes seems a third of my childhood was spent sitting in front of the TV, rewinding and fast-forwarding VHS tapes. Often, this was just to skip over the FBI’s anti-piracy warning, which—to my baby mind—seemed to occupy more screen time than the movie I was trying to watch. In fact, “The FBI provides severe and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction...” is one of the first things I remember reading.
But time has passed, the war on piracy has been all but lost and thankfully, we’ve moved away from VHS and onto more streamlined, convenient systems. As such, we can now view this clunky technology through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia. And it’s through that lens that we get explore the strange and funny world of 1980s and ‘90s anti-piracy PSAs and FBI warning screens, brought to our attention by Adi Robertson at The Verge.
If I ever have to justify the internet, this is what I’ll point to. No matter how precarious relying on services like Wikia and YouTube for preservation is, we live with a network of such vast scope and power that someone can wake up one morning and decide to turn the bland, cheesy, and fear-mongering first seconds of movies into a multimedia thesis on globalization, creativity, and law. The fact that putting it together probably took a significant amount of copyright infringement just raises the whole thing to the level of meta-art.
Wikia and YouTube, as Robertson points out, present a funny, worldly, interesting and unique look into the mostly-forgotten, but once ubiquitous piracy PSA.
Take this one from Brazil, for example:
Or this very specific warning from Great Britain:
And now they’re a collective memory for anybody born before Netflix. Sure, it might be mundane, but that makes it all the more wholesome.