Tapers' delight
This article appeared in the Birmingham Post-Herald on February 15, 2002
Tapers' delight
Concert bootlegging has the music industry in a jam
Feb. 15, 2002
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When Bob Dylan takes stage Saturday night at the BJCC Arena, it's likely that someone in the audience will be holding a recording device. 
It will be a hidden device, of course, because like most artists, Dylan does not allow audience members to tape his performances. 

Dylan could not be reached for comment. 

"With Dylan, he could pass gas in a hotel room, and somebody's going to record it," said Craig Pinkerton, owner of the Web site, which catalogs all Dylan bootlegs in circulation and provides lists of traders. 

Tapers provide the raw materials for a network of collectors who trade bootlegs, defined under federal law as unauthorized recordings of live musical performances. Pinkerton's site alone includes a list of more than 100 U.S. traders, and hundreds more exist. Bootlegs include homemade tapes up to professionally manufactured CDs. 

In the last few years, the traders' world has changed thanks to the advent of the CD-R, allowing home users to make near-perfect digital copies of music and other files. 

That means the quality and quantity of bootlegs being distributed has increased, along with other types of illegal recordings. 

Jonathan Whitehead, a lawyer with the Recording Industry Association of America, said the International Federation of the Phonograph Industry estimated that in 2001 $4.5 billion worth of illegal sound recordings were sold. That compares with $40 billion worth of legal recordings. The RIAA represents 90 percent of professional recordings in the United States. 

"I would consider that to be a conservative number considering the increase in CD-R piracy in recent years," Whitehead said. He said illegal sales take money away from the artists and labels. 

Record companies make up for losses by passing on the cost to consumers through higher CD and ticket prices. How much money is lost to bootlegging is hard to quantify, Whitehead said. Plus, other types of illegal recordings also affect the industry.

What it's not 
Rick Baker, of Wilsonville, owns about $10,000 worth of equipment that he has carried to hundreds of concerts to make live recordings. 
The list of equipment includes high-quality analog microphones, a analog-to-digital converter, a DAT recorder and a CD-R burner. 

"I do it as a hobby," he said. "I knew people that would tape the shows, and I always wanted to have a recording of the show, too." 

Most of Baker's recordings are not bootlegs. Baker usually records artists such as Phish, Widespread Panic or Birmingham band Tonal Vision, all of them authorizing tapers at their concerts. He admitted he has recorded a concert of an artist who did not allow recording at an out-of-state show, sneaking his equipment into the venue in parts with the help of five friends. Baker sells none of his recordings. 

He said he does not support bootlegging and is adamantly against the sale of live recordings - produced legally or illegally. 

"I don't agree with that because it jeopardizes the future of taping with bands who do allow it," he said. "Bands that allow taping, if you start selling their music, won't want people to record anymore." 

Pinkerton said young bands often support the taping of their shows. He added that if people are passing out their music, it can help them build a larger fan base. 

"The new artist is absolutely for bootlegs," he said. "When Metallica started off as a new artist, for example, that's how they made their name." 

Since then, Metallica frontman Lars Ulrich has spoken out emphatically against Napster, which revolutionized Internet trading of digital music files. 

Whitehead said the RIAA lets the artist decide about fan recording of live shows. The anti-piracy council investigates bootlegging of a certain artist only at the request of the label or management. He said the council has worked with hundreds of artists, including Dylan, trying to stop bootlegging.

Types of theft 
The unauthorized trading of live concert recordings is not to be confused with pirate recordings, which covers copies of store-bought CDs. 
Pinkerton argued that while pirating hurts the industry financially, bootlegging does not cause any significant losses for artists or labels for two reasons. 

First, the material being sold or distributed is not material that the record company has released or will release. Labels cannot afford to record every live performance of any artist, because the demand for the recording wouldn't be high enough to make a profit. 

Second, fans will make about 1,000 copies on average of a bootleg intended for sale, because of the low demand, Pinkerton said. Although the profit made off the sales of that bootleg may be enough to sustain an individual bootlegger (he estimated profits of $4,000 to $5,000 for those 1,000 copies), the profit is insignificant in comparison to the millions of copies and millions of dollars record companies deal in. 

Bootlegging is relatively small when compared to pirate recordings. The RIAA Anti-Piracy Unit assisted in the seizure of 1,257,796 pirated CD-Rs just in the first half of 2001, according to the RIAA. That number was up from 539,130 in the first half of 2000. 

Compare that to 11,248 bootleg CDs and CD-Rs seized in the first half of 2001. The largest number of bootlegs seized in a year was 800,000 in 1997 during a RIAA campaign against bootlegging. But Whitehead said the comparatively low numbers do not make bootlegging OK. 

No matter how financially small the offense, he said, it is still theft of property and can be damaging to the artist if the recording is low quality. 

"If you go in without an artist's permission and record their live shows and sell that recording, then you are stealing from that artist," he said.

Why oh why? 
Baker said the time spent in this hobby of recording, be it legal or illegal, is worth it. 
Like Dylan, the artists Baker records are musicians who always put on a different show, altering songs to new arrangements or improvisational moods. It is impossible to purchase all of their material because it constantly changes. 

He argues that tapers are the true diehard fans, but Whitehead disagrees. 

"If you're a true fan and the artist does not want you to record their live shows, then you should respect that," Whitehead said. 

The RIAA catches more bootleggers and pirates annually, but more willing candidates seem to always step in to take their place. Even Dylan knows they exist, and while he wants them gone, he admits in his tune "Sugar Baby" that some of their recordings are worth a listen: 

"Some of these bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff. Plenty of places to hide things here if you wanna hide'em bad enough."

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