Caution: Do not take the content of this article to be legitimate legal advice. This is merely for entertainment and speculation.
By this point, we all know just how much more amazing a DVD is than a VHS, leaving you wondering if you can convert your old VHS tapes to DVD to experience that added quality and longevity. Nowadays, you can find plenty of DVD re-releases of old shows and movies, but you might have a VHS tape that hasn't been given the same treatment, and may never get it. You might even find old home movies that you want to store for prosperity in the DVD format, so they are not lost forever. Given all of the controversy convert video tapes to digital surrounding copyright infringement nowadays, you might be worried about whether or not it's legal to convert a VHS tape to a DVD, especially if it's copyrighted material.
There is no straight answer to that question, and a lot of factors play into it, such as your country of origin and its stance on copyrighted material, as it can change from nation to nation. Personal recordings, like home movies, are not copyrighted, and therefore you can do with them as you will, including VHS conversion. This becomes somewhat muddled when you have copyrighted material on a VHS. Let us look at 'fair use' and how that plays into video cassettes and the situation you find yourself in now.
The "Betamax Case"
At the time that Betamax was bought out by Sony, there were film industry execs who grew worried about the public getting this new video format. With Betamax, people could record TV shows, making copyright holders worried and concerned that it violated their ownership of the copyright, which could ruin them. There were also concerns that Congress would not put forth new legislation to protect the film industry, as it had just finished amending copyright law in general. In the end, Sony Corp. was sued by these corporations. The US District Court of California oversaw this case in 1976, where it was alleged that Sony could be held responsible for this copyright infringement, as they were releasing this device enabling that infringement to the general public.
The Supreme Court itself eventually handled this case, and the 1984 "Betamax Case," otherwise known as Sony Corp. of America versus Universal City Studios, Inc., was decided upon once and for all. According to the Supreme Court, it was fair use to record a television show using this device, provided that it was meant for time-shifting and watching it at a later date.
Basically, if you wanted to transfer your own VHS recordings of what you saw on TV, or even your commercially purchased tapes, it would not violate copyright legislation, and would be legal. There are situations that can fudge the issue, though. Fair use rights do not necessarily extend to each time a tape is copied no matter what. The method of the media transfer is a vital distinction to make.
The Digital Millenium Copyright Act was put forth in 1996 and combines a pair of treaties the World Intellectual Property Organization put forth into US copyright law. According to this legislation, it is illegal to create devices that are meant to get around copy protection put in place by companies. In a nutshell, taking out that DRM on your iTunes music or other media would be illegal, and a violation of copyright law.
Therefore, even though you can transfer media between formats, it is illegal to do so in a way that goes around the company's individual restrictions on this process, regardless of the type, making it a very sticky situation to find yourself in. A large discussion is being held currently on whether or not fair use is being violated in this instance, and there will likely be big decisions made in the near future about this subject.
In American copyright legislation, fair use is defined as a method of using copyrighted material that doesn't require you to ask the copyright holders for clearance. There are so many different situations that this applies to, it is within fair use to record programs from your television. Only America actually uses the term 'fair use,' but there are other nations that have a term similar to this; do your research in your home country to find the laws in that regard.
The Individual Ramifications of this Legislation
Macrovision is the type of copy protection mechanism put in place to prevent transferring of VHS tapes. Macrovision comes in the form of signals embedded into the tape that are meant to keep you from copying the media. You could face charges if you are found using anything that is meant to go around Macrovision in order to record the video. You can find workarounds, though. There are VHS players that are so old that they do not recognize the Macrivision signals, and it is well within your legal right to use these devices to transfer your VHS tapes.
It does not deliberately circumvent the signals, so you are not breaking any laws necessarily. Using things that are specifically meant to go around Macrovision would be illegal, however. Therefore, you can run into legal troubles if you use a separate device to filter out Macrivision signals on a device that does read them. As a result, you can find ways to work around a Macrovision copy protection, as convert video tapes to digitallong as it isn't specifically meant to do that precise thing, and you will not be arrested or charged.
Different countries have different legislation on this concern, so do your homework in order to find out what flies in your nation. However, you will often find that the laws are not all that different from the United States, and there is typically some form of fair use in place. Depending on the method that you use to do it, you will be able to legally copy your VHS media to a DVD format for prosperity. You cannot buy or use a device that specifically says it is able to work around Macrovision, and the customers and manufacturer or such a device can be held liable. However, you will be fine legally if you just happen to be using a device that will not read the signals at all on a VHS tape.