The Age in Melbourne
Contribution by: Tim McGee 
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Stolen moments 
June 7 2002 

Online trading of unauthorised CDR recordings could spell the end of the 
bootleg industry as we have known it, reports Jon Casimir. 

Do you have a hankering to hear Bob Dylan's Pittsburgh show from February 
1966? Or tapes from 1961, before he was famous? How about his rehearsal for 
an MTV Unplugged special in 1994? The unreleased February 1969 recordings he 
did with Johnny Cash? A concert from the current Love and Theft Tour? Then 
head for the Bob Dylan Boot Database. It keeps track of hundreds of 
recordings of the whiny little guy. All of them - shows, session out-takes, 
unreleased songs, press conference tapes and other career offcuts - are 
unauthorised by Dylan or his recording company. That is to say, they're 
illegal. But that's not stopping them doing the rounds of a highly 
networked, technologically literate Web community. 

The Boot Database doesn't sell any of these recordings. Neither does it make 
them available for direct download. What it does is something much simpler, 
cheaper and more effective. It's a referral service, putting owners of 
bootlegs in contact with each other, nurturing a CDR trading circle (Compact 
Disc-Recordable, more formally CD-R, are discs you record on, or burn, 
once). Its core is a "Who Has Which Boot?" database, a searchable index of 
recordings cross-referenced with the people who own them. 

The database user goes through a simple registration process (which includes 
providing his or her own list of bootlegs), then requests a recording via 
email. According to the site, database queries can be run specifying year, 
date and location of the recording, as well as the presence of other 
performers. A return email is sent with contact details of members who have 
the right discs. The second trader gets in touch with the first and 
bartering ensues. 

"Over the past seven years," the site says, "hundreds of Dylan fans have 
contributed information about their 'unauthorised' recordings and 
volunteered to serve as contacts. The Bob Dylan Bootleg Database has 
provided thousands of referrals." 

The Boot Database is not the only site providing such a service. Bob's Boots 
runs a smaller, more low-tech system, listing CDR traders for contact in 28 
countries (including a handful in Australia). And there are plenty of 
others. If you type "Bob Dylan CDR trading" into the Google search engine, 
you'll find more than 2000 matches. And the number increases daily. 

While you're there, try tapping in the name of any other major act of the 
past 40 years and you'll find that although Dylan's fans are among the most 
organised of the online communities (they are, after all, the Star Trek 
geeks of the music world - obsessive, completist, encyclopedic in their 
knowledge), trading groups exist for an amazing range of acts. 

Typing in "The Beatles CDR trading" will net you more than 2360 sites to 
hunt through. Change the band name to U2 and you'll get 2200. Kiss returns 
1980 matches, Pink Floyd 1850, Prince 1600, The Rolling Stones 1190 and 
Bruce Springsteen 925, to name just a few. Local acts such as Midnight Oil, 
Silverchair, Crowded House will net 200 or 300 suggestions each. Some of 
these will lead to organised swap groups. Others are merely people listing 
their collections online and hoping other traders will stumble across them. 

But let's stick with the Bob example for a while longer. Those who wish to 
research the bootlegs listed at the Boot Database before putting in requests 
can use sites such as DylanBase, which has catalogued more than 1000 
bootlegs, representing an archive of 11,000 performances of songs. 

This place was set up to be "a giant bubbling information centre", full of 
set lists, reviews, comments, trading lists and other information - all 
supplied by volunteers. Its chief claim to fame is its song search engine - 
if you want to find shows only at which Dylan played Series of Dreams or 
Subterranean Homesick Blues, you can. Deep Beneath The Waves is an e-zine 
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 person who 
has a recording posts a notice on site about it. Anyone who wants a copy 
then signs up to the specific "tree". Two people are chosen to send blank 
discs as well as return postage to the person at the top of the tree, who 
has the original CD recording. He then burns copies of the concert and sends 
it to them. These two people then receive blank discs and postage from the 
four people on the next branch level of the tree. And so on. In this way, 
one concert can be shared among many people without anyone having to burn 
more than two copies for anyone else. 

And what do you do when these blank CDs turn up in the mail and you think: 
"Gee, I wish they had cover art"? Well, Dylantree has links to a raft of 
amateur bootleg artwork sites which let users download high-quality scans of 
homemade album covers (with names, track listings and the relevant recording 
information) for laser printing. The quality of the graphic design is as 
surprising as the quality of some of the recordings. 

The fact that a sub-community of artists has attached itself to the trading 
community indicates the scope and passion of the activity. There are even 
free software programs for collectors who want to keep track of their 
trading. Indeed, what is most startling about this whole business is the 
level of organisation involved, the evolution that has taken place in the 
few short years that we've had both the Net and the CD burner. 

The Dylanophiles, and other groups like them, are not just networks, they're 
societies - people coming together with common purpose, common outlook and a 
well-defined moral code. At the core of that code is the idea, shared among 
all CDR trading communities, that this material should be shared rather than 
sold. Traders have managed, regardless of the law, to elevate themselves, at 
least in their own eyes, to the moral high ground. As long as what they're 
doing is not about money, they argue, then everything is kosher. As far as 
they're concerned, CDR trading is an expression of love for the artist, 
evidence of commitment. 

John Mazcko, a US university student who runs Mega Superior Gold, a Ryan 
Adams site which fosters a CDR trading community for one of the hottest new 
stars of American music, says bootleg discs don't replace or compete with 
the official work of an artist. Rather, they augment it, fuelling the ardour 
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 the music. I'm 
definitely not ripping Ryan off at all. I can guarantee that just about 
anyone who has bootlegged shows of his stuff also has the original albums." 

Most trading sites have warnings not to sell or buy "field recordings" 
plastered all over them. The Dylan Database, for example, assures visitors 
that in all its time online, "not a single cent has changed hands - the 
service is strictly not-for-profit and hobby-oriented". 

As no cash is flowing in either direction, and most people trading are 
likely to have bought everything the artist has offered them already, the 
traders may have a point when they argue they're not hurting anybody. Add to 
that an understanding that the kind of acts that are bootlegged are mostly 
the acts that are already successful and you have to wonder how much 
financial damage it does. 

Mazcko reckons Adams has said at shows that he doesn't mind being taped and 
seeing those recordings traded. And to be fair, there are acts out there 
(none on major labels, which routinely include contract clauses to disallow 
the practice) which let fans tape concerts - check the Bands That Allow 
Taping site for proof. 

But the truth is that all the good intentions and supposedly pure hearts of 
the traders don't make any of their activities less illegal. Music industry 
lawyer Shane Simpson says he has no doubt that what they do contravenes the 
copyright laws, which see no distinction between trading and selling. Under 
Australian law, anyone who performs on a recording must sign a consent 
before that recording can be released to the public - so if it ain't 
authorised, it ain't legal, whether money changes hands for it or not. 

"There's no question about that," Simpson says. "Bartering, anything - it 
makes no difference. Even if it's a gift. Once you have made it available to 
someone else, you're over the line." 

However, Simpson says, the question of whether CDR trading is legal really 
isn't that interesting. The interesting question, in an age where the music 
industry is paranoid about losing control of its product, is why aren't the 
CDR traders, who aren't exactly skulking in the dark corners of the online 
world, being prosecuted? 

"It's a bit like home taping," he says. "No record company is going to pay 
an expensive team of lawyers to get court orders to bust down the door of 
some 14-year-old girl in Kogarah to raid her bedroom and take a CD burner. 
Who'd want the flak? 

"A lot of artists treat it [trading] as honorific. It happens because so 
many people love them, and isn't that a lovely thing? Those that really hate 
it, I imagine, are put off by the expense of doing anything. I don't know 
what it would cost to run a case, but you'd want to have $100,000 in the 
kick before saying, 'This looks like a good idea'." 

Even if an artist did want to try to stop the practice, he or she would be 
faced with the realisation that suing members of the fanbase for damages 
would not just be bad publicity, it wouldn't return much cash. Then there 
would be the problem of knowing where to start. CDR trading is not like 
Napster - it doesn't have a centralised point of dissemination. It's 
thousands of people in their homes. So it's not a situation where you could 
kill the head and expect the body to die. 

Simpson asks: "Exactly which of the Medusa heads do you attack? There's a 
bit of a reality check when the artists go to their lawyer and the lawyer 
says, 'Sure, put the money in the trust account and let's spend the next 
three years chasing rabbits down holes.' Unless one of those Medusa heads 
really is high, and they're really making a business out of it, then I don't 
think it would be worth it." 

This strange marriage of love and theft might last for a while, then. 


The popularity of the CD burner has made trading possible. Previously, 
bootleg trading was mostly in cassette tapes. The advent of the CDR has led 
to an overall improvement in bootleg sound quality, too. Digital audience 
recordings have higher quality and the worldwide nature of the Net means 
radio and TV performances, wherever they are, can be copied and circulated 
among fans. If an artist tells the local community radio station in Malmo, 
Sweden, that it can broadcast a concert, then you can bet fans in Sydney 
will be hearing it the next week. 

Copyright © 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 trends. is primarily a museum, reference, & info page dedicated to commercial Dylan boots.
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 fallacy. 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 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 should never 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.

6) Finally, and most importantly... when burning, remember that true bootleg CDs are manufactured illegally; so there can be no copyright claim from the manufacturer. HOWEVER... Pirate Recording (recording a CD that the artist offers for sale through their record label... as is to be found at 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. 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.
© 2001-2006 CD Pinkerton /  

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