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Published on October 27th, 2016 | by Alan Cross


Retro Fun: The Launch of the “Home Taping Is Killing Music” Campaign 35 Years Ago


The official logo of the Home Taping is Killing Music Campaign. Seriously.

It wasn’t just the Internet and Napster. The music industry has a long history of going after people they consider to be pirates and thieves. Thirty-five years ago, the big boogeyman was home taping, people who spent time recording tracks from vinyl records (in real time!) onto cassettes for their friends. Actually, it was more than that. There were plenty of screams from labels and artists that people who bought records shouldn’t even make mixtapes for the car of the Walkman. “You want my music on cassette? Then buy a copy of the official cassette, goddammit!”

No, really. They actually demanded people do that. Blondie, Elton John, Gary Numan and a host of other artists jumped on the bandwagon.

The best-known anti-piracy campaign of the era was the “Home Taping Is Killing Music” project launched by some British labels in the fall of 1981. Their big concerns were (a) the rise of cassette decks in cars; (b) the tsunami of personal music devices that followed the introduction of the Walkman in 1979; and (c) the proliferation of dual cassette decks, machines that offered the ability to easily duplicate one tape onto another (at up to 2x speed!).  That tape-to-tape potential was really scary.


Naturally, this campaign left itself wide open to parody. Bow Wow Wow retaliated with a song called “C30, C60, C90, Go!” A cassette single was produced with side B left blank as a way of encouraging people to load it up with home-taped music. Their label, EMI, was not amused and refused to promote the single.

The Dead Kennedys did something similar with their 1981 EP, In God We Trust, Inc. Side two of the tape looked like this.


And Devo also got in on the fun.

And then there was this from Dan Bull.

One of things that came out of this hysteria was a levy on blank recordable media. Even today, there’s a hidden tax on all blank cassettes sold in Canada (and a few other countries) that’s redistributed to artists to compensate for any lost revenue that might have resulted from home taping. A similar levy is also hidden in the price of blank CDs.

Sidebar: When was the last time you bought a spool of CD-Rs? Or better yet, a blank cassette?

(With files from Diffuser)


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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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4 Responses to Retro Fun: The Launch of the “Home Taping Is Killing Music” Campaign 35 Years Ago

  1. Tom McGaffin says:

    Sidebar answer….2 months ago, I bought a spool of 50 blank DVD-R, and a spool of 25 blank CD-R.

  2. Marty Murray says:

    I haven’t bought a blank cassette in decades, but CD-R’s, yes, and I’m not amused at how much the price has gone up on them. DVD’s are now much cheaper. I still enjoy making up my CD mixes. Still enjoy putting old vinyl records onto CD to play in the car. I have an MP3 player but I seldom use it. I guess I’m just too old-fashioned. I enjoy making up the CDs and making the covers for them. It’s a hobby for me. Having the songs on a player is just not the same experience. Also, since I have an older vehicle, there is nowhere to plug in the MP3 player anyway.

  3. Pingback: Links: Consumers shall only rip CDs to properly copyright-levied 80 minute MP3s of silence. – Rocknerd

  4. Pingback: Week 2 – Copyright | MED7020 Popular Music as Commerce

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