Dean C. Dunlavey, the Los Angeles trial lawyer who won consumers the right to tape TV shows on their VCRs, died Saturday from complications of a fall. He was 77.
Dunlavey graduated at the top of his class from the University of California, Berkeley in 1955. He was the editor-in-chief of the California Law Review and served as a member of the Order of the Coif.
He taught at Harvard Law School, and earned a master’s of law degree, then joined the Los Angeles law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in 1956. He tried nearly 100 cases in his 34-year legal career, but the most important one was Sony Corp. of America vs. Universal City Studios Inc. (a.k.a. the Betamax case).
In the early ’80s, Universal City Studios and Walt Disney Productions were granted an injunction against Sony, the manufacturer who sold Betamax video recorders. Universal and Disney claimed the VCR infringed on the copyrights of Hollywood studios because it allowed consumers to record their favorite TV shows.
The case went to the Supreme Court where Dunlavey contended that greed was behind the law suit. He said the movie studios were paid to air their TV shows and were not entitled to further compensation by the consumer.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that consumers do not violate federal copyright law when they tape TV shows for their own use, and that the makers of VCRs were not breaking any laws by selling such products to the public.