Xerox expected customers would make about 2,000 copies a month—but users easily made 10,000 a month, and some as many as 100,000. Before the 914 machine, Americans made 20 million copies a year, but by 1966 Xerox had boosted the total to 14 billion.
The bizarre welter of things being replicated made even the folks at Xerox worry they had unleashed Promethean forces. “Have we really made a contribution by making it easier to reproduce junk and nonsense?” as Sol Linowitz, CEO of Xerox International, fretted in Life magazine.
“There were these copies where you had a Rorschach blot and you had to fold it and hold it up to the light, and there were people having sex in more positions than you could imagine,” says Michael Preston, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who published an early collection of what he called Xerox-lore—the folklore of the copying age.
“Xerography is bringing a reign of terror into the world of publishing, because it means that every reader can become both author and publisher,” Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1966.
These days, Congress is working hard—often at the behest of movie studios or record labels—in the opposite direction, making it harder for people to copy things digitally. But back in the first cultural glow of the Xerox, lawmakers and judges came to the opposite conclusion: Copying was good for society.
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