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George Atkinson, ‘Father' of Video Rental, Dies

4 Mar, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

George Atkinson in the mid 1980's.

George Atkinson, credited as the “father” of the home video retail business, died Thursday morning at his home in Northridge, Calif. He was 69.

In October 1977, Atkinson converted his Los Angeles retail store that had been selling super 8 movies and projectors into Video Station, the industry's first video rental store. He had heard of Andre Blay's acquisition of video rights to some 50 films from 20th Century Fox and, sensing an opportunity, placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times that offered video cassettes for rent, which received thousands of inquiries.

However, Atkinson's efforts did not sit well with Fox and other studios, which demanded he cease renting the videos. Atkinson hired a lawyer to research the First Sale Doctrine and launched a protracted court battle that galvanized small retailers nationwide and led to the formation of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA). The effort eventually led to a federal court decision that allowed for the rental of home videos.

“Anyone who has spoken to George about his ‘founding moments' would say that he did not set out to be the founder of an industry,” said Bo Andersen, VSDA president. “Instead, he was an innovative retailer with some spunk. He got some sound advice about the right to rent under the First Sale doctrine and withstood substantial pressure to cease and desist renting movie videos. In many respects, his was a role model for the determined entrepreneurs who established the video rental business.”

Atkinson went on to organize the opening of more than 600 Video Station affiliates nationwide, until he stepped down from the day-to-day business in 1997 to pursue consultancy work.

“This man knocked down big walls for this industry,” said long-time friend and colleague Jim Russo, VP of sales at Razor Digital Entertainment. Russo first met Atkinson in 1978 and helped him roll out the affiliate-store program for Video Station. “He was like a second father to me. And his pioneering work made it possible for a lot of people in this industry to make a good living.”

Atkinson had suffered from emphysema for a number of years.He is survived by three daughters, Camille Atkinson, Maureen Red Elk and Ashleigh Atkinson; a brother, Edward J. Atkinson; his mother, Valerie Atkinson; and his partner of 13 years, Betty Piscitello.

No details were available as to services or possible memorial funds.

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