by: Tim McGee
The Age in
to the News Index
June 7 2002
Online trading of unauthorised CDR recordings could spell the
bootleg industry as we have known it, reports Jon Casimir.
Do you have a hankering to hear Bob Dylan's Pittsburgh show
1966? Or tapes from 1961, before he was famous? How about his rehearsal
an MTV Unplugged special in 1994? The unreleased February 1969
did with Johnny Cash? A concert from the current Love and Theft Tour?
head for the Bob Dylan Boot Database. It keeps track of hundreds
recordings of the whiny little guy. All of them - shows, session
unreleased songs, press conference tapes and other career offcuts -
unauthorised by Dylan or his recording company. That is to say,
illegal. But that's not stopping them doing the rounds of a
networked, technologically literate Web community.
The Boot Database doesn't sell any of these recordings.
them available for direct download. What it does is something much
cheaper and more effective. It's a referral service, putting owners
bootlegs in contact with each other, nurturing a CDR trading circle
Disc-Recordable, more formally CD-R, are discs you record on, or
once). Its core is a "Who Has Which Boot?" database, a searchable index
recordings cross-referenced with the people who own them.
The database user goes through a simple registration process
providing his or her own list of bootlegs), then requests a recording
email. According to the site, database queries can be run specifying
date and location of the recording, as well as the presence of
performers. A return email is sent with contact details of members
the right discs. The second trader gets in touch with the first
"Over the past seven years," the site says, "hundreds of Dylan
contributed information about their 'unauthorised' recordings and
volunteered to serve as contacts. The Bob Dylan Bootleg Database
provided thousands of referrals."
The Boot Database is not the only site providing such a
runs a smaller, more low-tech system, listing CDR traders for contact
countries (including a handful in Australia). And there are plenty
others. If you type "Bob Dylan CDR trading" into the Google search
you'll find more than 2000 matches. And the number increases
While you're there, try tapping in the name of any other major
past 40 years and you'll find that although Dylan's fans are among
organised of the online communities (they are, after all, the Star
geeks of the music world - obsessive, completist, encyclopedic in
knowledge), trading groups exist for an amazing range of acts.
Typing in "The Beatles CDR trading" will net you more than
hunt through. Change the band name to U2 and you'll get 2200. Kiss
1980 matches, Pink Floyd 1850, Prince 1600, The Rolling Stones 1190
Bruce Springsteen 925, to name just a few. Local acts such as Midnight
Silverchair, Crowded House will net 200 or 300 suggestions each. Some
these will lead to organised swap groups. Others are merely people
their collections online and hoping other traders will stumble across
But let's stick with the Bob example for a while longer. Those
research the bootlegs listed at the Boot Database before putting in
can use sites such as DylanBase, which has catalogued more than
bootlegs, representing an archive of 11,000 performances of
This place was set up to be "a giant bubbling information
set lists, reviews, comments, trading lists and other information -
supplied by volunteers. Its chief claim to fame is its song search
if you want to find shows only at which Dylan played Series of Dreams
Subterranean Homesick Blues, you can. Deep Beneath The Waves is an
devoted to reviewing only Dylan boots. But what do you do if you're
a keen Dylan
fan without any bootlegs to trade? Well, that's been sorted out, too.
Visit DylanTree, a
site which organises what traders call "trees", a simple and effective
model for the sharing of music.
CDR trees - which grow in many communities - work like this. A
has a recording posts a notice on site about it. Anyone who wants a
then signs up to the specific "tree". Two people are chosen to send
discs as well as return postage to the person at the top of the tree,
has the original CD recording. He then burns copies of the concert
it to them. These two people then receive blank discs and postage from
four people on the next branch level of the tree. And so on. In this
one concert can be shared among many people without anyone having to
more than two copies for anyone else.
And what do you do when these blank CDs turn up in the mail
"Gee, I wish they had cover art"? Well, Dylantree has links to a raft
amateur bootleg artwork sites which let users download high-quality
homemade album covers (with names, track listings and the relevant
information) for laser printing. The quality of the graphic design
surprising as the quality of some of the recordings.
The fact that a sub-community of artists has attached itself
community indicates the scope and passion of the activity. There are
free software programs for collectors who want to keep track of
trading. Indeed, what is most startling about this whole business is
level of organisation involved, the evolution that has taken place
few short years that we've had both the Net and the CD burner.
The Dylanophiles, and other groups like them, are not just
societies - people coming together with common purpose, common outlook
well-defined moral code. At the core of that code is the idea, shared
all CDR trading communities, that this material should be shared rather
sold. Traders have managed, regardless of the law, to elevate
least in their own eyes, to the moral high ground. As long as what
doing is not about money, they argue, then everything is kosher. As
they're concerned, CDR trading is an expression of love for the
evidence of commitment.
John Mazcko, a US university student who runs Mega Superior
Adams site which fosters a CDR trading community for one of the hottest
stars of American music, says bootleg discs don't replace or compete
the official work of an artist. Rather, they augment it, fuelling the
among those who just can't get enough of the musicians they love.
"It may be illegal to trade," Mazcko says, "but I'm all about
definitely not ripping Ryan off at all. I can guarantee that just
anyone who has bootlegged shows of his stuff also has the original
Most trading sites have warnings not to sell or buy "field
plastered all over them. The Dylan Database, for example, assures
that in all its time online, "not a single cent has changed hands -
service is strictly not-for-profit and hobby-oriented".
As no cash is flowing in either direction, and most people
likely to have bought everything the artist has offered them already,
traders may have a point when they argue they're not hurting anybody.
that an understanding that the kind of acts that are bootlegged are
the acts that are already successful and you have to wonder how
financial damage it does.
Mazcko reckons Adams has said at shows that he doesn't mind
seeing those recordings traded. And to be fair, there are acts out
(none on major labels, which routinely include contract clauses to
the practice) which let fans tape concerts - check the Bands That
Taping site for proof.
But the truth is that all the good intentions and supposedly
the traders don't make any of their activities less illegal. Music
lawyer Shane Simpson says he has no doubt that what they do contravenes
copyright laws, which see no distinction between trading and selling.
Australian law, anyone who performs on a recording must sign a
before that recording can be released to the public - so if it
authorised, it ain't legal, whether money changes hands for it or
"There's no question about that," Simpson says. "Bartering,
makes no difference. Even if it's a gift. Once you have made it
someone else, you're over the line."
However, Simpson says, the question of whether CDR trading is
isn't that interesting. The interesting question, in an age where the
industry is paranoid about losing control of its product, is why aren't
CDR traders, who aren't exactly skulking in the dark corners of the
world, being prosecuted?
"It's a bit like home taping," he says. "No record company is
an expensive team of lawyers to get court orders to bust down the door
some 14-year-old girl in Kogarah to raid her bedroom and take a CD
Who'd want the flak?
"A lot of artists treat it [trading] as honorific. It happens
many people love them, and isn't that a lovely thing? Those that really
it, I imagine, are put off by the expense of doing anything. I don't
what it would cost to run a case, but you'd want to have $100,000 in
kick before saying, 'This looks like a good idea'."
Even if an artist did want to try to stop the practice, he or
faced with the realisation that suing members of the fanbase for
would not just be bad publicity, it wouldn't return much cash. Then
would be the problem of knowing where to start. CDR trading is not
Napster - it doesn't have a centralised point of dissemination.
thousands of people in their homes. So it's not a situation where you
kill the head and expect the body to die.
Simpson asks: "Exactly which of the Medusa heads do you
bit of a reality check when the artists go to their lawyer and the
says, 'Sure, put the money in the trust account and let's spend the
three years chasing rabbits down holes.' Unless one of those Medusa
really is high, and they're really making a business out of it, then
think it would be worth it."
This strange marriage of love and theft might last for a
The popularity of the CD burner has made trading possible.
bootleg trading was mostly in cassette tapes. The advent of the CDR
to an overall improvement in bootleg sound quality, too. Digital
recordings have higher quality and the worldwide nature of the Net
radio and TV performances, wherever they are, can be copied and
among fans. If an artist tells the local community radio station in
Sweden, that it can broadcast a concert, then you can bet fans in
will be hearing it the next week.
© 2002 The Age Company Ltd
Note by Craig:
This reply has found need of being updated
several times over the course of the years to keep up with the latest
bobsboots.com is primarily a museum,
reference, & info page dedicated to commercial
We neither trade nor sell. We have no vested interest in any entity
that participates in either of these activities.
We neither condone nor condemn selling of commercial boots.
We neither condone nor condemn CD-r trading.
However, the above article (as well as many traders) points out that no
money changes hands in trading.
That is a
The money is spent on the blank CD-r. Time (which
equates to money)
is spent burning the copy. When a trade is made, a profit of that time
and material is realized.
The legal systems in virtually every country rightly views any such
barter transaction as a profit gained.
There are some traders and trading websites that try to put themselves
on a 'higher moral ground' because they lean toward
trading CD-r rather than selling commercial (silver
master) discs. The
two are equivalent. However you view
one, you must also view the other. The world operates on a barter
system. You trade your time for the
things that you want. Money is simply
a convenience that allows your time to be distributed even to those
who have no need of your barter.
The stance that bobsboots.com takes on these activities is this:
1) The artist should have full rights to his / her material to
decide what gets released to the public and what does not..
As we do not live in this utopian reality (and never have)......
2) As there is an intrinsic value associated with commercial,
silver master (pressed... not burnt) CDs; it is
understandable that these items would be offered for sale. The
collectible nature of these items ensure that they will not only retain
their value; but will increase in value over time.
3) Burnt CD-r's (as made one at a time on a
home computer) may have an elaborate disc label and slick looking
inserts or covers. What they do not have is monetary value. These CD-rs
be bought or sold, as they only profit the individual
seller at the expense of the buyer. As there is no value associated
with them, the buyer can never recoup his / her expense. A trend on
eBay is to fool buyers into thinking they are buying silver discs when
they are not. Also, keep in mind that there is affordable technologies
that allow labels to be printed directly to the discs on homemade
copies. Caveat Emptor.
4) Those interested in the music only and not the collectible
packages themselves might find it enjoyable to trade burnt CD-rs.
The proper etiquette for trading is one for one. There should never be
one party that profits at the expense of the other. The exception to
this rule is when one party requests a trade, but has no item to
reciprocate. The first trader may understandably ask for blank discs,
paid postage, etc. to cover his / her expenditure.
5) All of these activities help support the artist by raising
public interest in them. The fans of bootlegs become the fans of
legitimate releases, and this translates into more sales.
and most importantly... when burning, remember
that true bootleg CDs are manufactured illegally; so
there can be no copyright claim from the manufacturer. HOWEVER...
(recording a CD that the artist offers for sale through
their record label... as is to be found at Amazon.com etc.) is not only
illegal, but it is stealing from the artist that one claims to enjoy
and support. The term " Pirate
" extends to the illegal download of any online song that is
legitimately offered for sale elsewhere. bobsboots.com
takes a strong stand against pirate
recordings of officially released material, and will not tolerate any
trading member that engages in
this activity. Click to learn
more about boots v. pirates.
CD Pinkerton / bobsboots.com
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