Los Angeles attorney Dean Dunlavey, who successfuly argued before the U.S. Supreme court that consumers should be allowed to videotape copyrighted movies for their own enjoyment, died June 28 in a San Pedro, Calif., hospital of complications from a fall. He was 77.
Dunlavey successfully argued the landmark Sony Corp. of America vs. Universal City Studios Inc. case, best known as the “Betamax case,” case, before the Supreme Court in 1984.
Waterloo, Iowa native served as an infantry captain during World War II. He later attended Harvard on the GI Bill, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1949. He received a doctorate in nuclear chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, working with Nobel Prize winner Glenn T. Seaborg. But he realized he enjoyed “fighting with people” too much to work in a lab, so he shifted to law. He graduated first in his class from Berkeley’s law school in 1955 and went on to a 34-year law career.
As a partner in the Los Angeles firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Dunlavey argued and won several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, none more important than the Betamax case.
In 1979 Universal City Studios and Walt Disney Productions sued Sony, maker of the Betamax video recorder, arguing that consumers’ use of the Betamax infringed on the studios’ copyrights and that VCR makers were “contributory infringers.”
As Sony’s attorney, Dunlavey urged the justices to reject the movie industry’s stance and allow Americans to continue to have unrestricted use of the recorders.
The court ruled 5-4 that consumers do not violate federal copyright law when they use videocassette recorders to tape television programs for their own use, and that companies that make or sell the VCRs do not violate the copyright law by making the machines available to the public.
He retired from the practice of law in 1990 and subsequently taught at Harvard Law School.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Dorian; three sons; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. July 19 at St. Peter’s By the Sea Presbyterian Church, 6410 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the animal rescue organization Delta Rescue, P.O. Box 9, Glendale, CA 91209.