Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Incredibly, the word 'bootleg' does not appear in the current Oxford English Dictionary. Eric Partridge's pioneering Dictionary Of Slang And Unconventional English (London, 1937) says that the word was used in the USA as early as 1890: 'From the old days when spirits, in flat bottles, were carried on the leg to the Red Indians ... whence boot-legging, the sale and distribution of illicit liquor in the US.' Partridge's A Dictionary Of The Underworld (1950) says that by 1904 the word was used for prison coffee, an example of convict humour. It is often said that the first bootleg record was Great White Wonder, a two-LP set of Bob Dylan's basement tapes in 1969, but that was only the first bootleg to come to the attention of the baby-boomers; some say the first was a radio link in a Louis Armstrong concert in Denmark '33, fed to a disc-cutter by an engineer. It is usually the case with new technology that nothing we do with it is against the law until the law is updated. The British Copyright Act of 1911 had provided protection for sound recordings throughout the British Empire, but Congress in the USA foolishly decided in 1919 that 'there was no visible expression of creative effort within the grooves of a record'. The first legal test of bootleg records in the USA occurred '36, when transcriptions made off the air were good enough so that small radio stations could compile programmes by Bing Crosby or Paul Whiteman. The popular bandleader Fred Waring was heard over nationwide radio sponsored by Ford, and wasn't bothering to make records; his radio broadcasts were bootlegged and he helped form the National Association of Performing Artists to work with ASCAP to get copyright law toughened up. They sued a Pennsylvania recording studio that was selling Waring bootlegs and got an injunction, and next they sued WDAS of Philadelphia for playing the records. The court found for Waring, seeing that it was the sound of the band that Waring had created that made the records valuable, although appeals dragged on for a while. (They then tried to stop commercial releases from being played over the radio; see entry for James Petrillo.) Out-of-print jazz records and classical recordings, especially opera, were bootlegged for many years; opera singers were often happy to autograph bootlegs, their egos flattered that the fans cared enough to collect them. BBC broadcasts cond. by Jascha Horenstein, John Barbirolli etc were bootlegged for years because it wasn't until the '90s that the British musicians' union would make a sensible deal allowing commercial issues. In the case of jazz records the legal owners left studio recordings in the vaults for decades so that nobody could buy them, or they were live recordings that nobody was going to issue anyway; although sales were small the musicians usually received no money at all. Record producer Orrin Keepnews was editor of The Record Changer '51; he reprinted in his book The View From Within '88 the embarrassing story of how RCA Victor were custom-pressing bootleg jazz records for a Jolly Roger label. Jerry Newman in the early '40s and Dean Benedetti in the late '40s--early '50s dragged disc-cutting machines to clubs; a selection of Newman's masterpieces was God Is In The House, an Art Tatum album (that needs reissuing on CD); Benedetti specialized in Charlie Parker, turning his machine off whenever Parker wasn't playing: his legendary trove was finally purchased from his heirs and issued complete on seven Mosaic CDs '90. The bootlegging of misplaced studio tapes or concert recordings became a world-wide business in the rock era, but nobody ever got rich doing it, and artists like Bruce Springsteen were smart enough to know that the fans buying the bootlegs had already bought all the legitimate recordings anyway. (Drug-store cowboy Garth Brooks was not so smart, trying at one point to stop sales of second-hand copies of his CDs.) Clinton Heylin's book on the Robin Hoods of rock, The Great White Wonders '94, is fascinating and highly recommended. 'Home taping costs European music companies about £10 million a year,' said a news article c'90, but this figure came from a trade body; if people stopped taping records, that doesn't mean they'd go out and buy £10 million worth of them. The recording artists and the small record companies know that fans copy records for the same reason they have always swapped and borrowed them: when they find artists they like, they then buy records by those artists. The mini-disc will probably replace the cassette, used by fans to make their own compilations and digital transfers of their own LPs, and the record companies will continue to cry the blues, but the threat to record companies (and recording artists) is not in fans collecting scraps but in international organized crime stealing legitimate hits by the truckload. 'Pirates' are merely illegal copies of commercial recordings, but 'counterfeits' copy everything right down to the copyright marks and corporate logos. The first true CD bootlegs seem to have been two 30- minute CDs of Beatles items somehow smuggled out of EMI '88, called Ultra Rare Trax. Given today's technology, the size of the international market and the confusion over copyright law, the problem is more complicated than ever. Mechanical copyright runs out after 50 years in most countries, which means that anyone can now issue pre-WWII recordings, although royalties on compositions are still supposed to be paid. Early Elvis Presley tracks and others were issued on CD in Denmark '86 where copyright protection is only 25 years; in this way the Italians and others have been 'pirating' jazz and classical records for decades. It is against EC law not to allow member states to sell their goods in other member states, so copyright laws are being