Counterfeit, pirate or bootleg?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Sunday April 11, 2010
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If you buy CDs at flea markets or car boot sales, you may be buying counterfeit, pirate or bootleg products. Does this matter? What do you need to know?

So you plan on bulking up your CD collection cheaply at a car boot sale or flea market. You don't like paying high prices in the stores and you wonder how traders can sell their wares so cheaply.

You might however find yourself buying not the genuine article but counterfeit, pirated or bootleg CDs. But what's the difference? And what is the moral viewpoint on each of these types of product?

The first thing to say is that they are all illegal. Depending on the legal jurisdiction where you buy counterfeit, pirate or bootleg CDs, you will possibly not be committing an illegal act yourself, and almost certainly not if you don't realize that you're not buying the genuine article. The trader however should know better.

A counterfeit CD is one that is manufactured illegally by a third party not connected to the record label and imitates the original as closely as possible. The ideal for the counterfeiter is that their wares should be physically indistinguishable from the original.

Pirate CDs do not mimic genuine CDs. Often they are compilations or repackaged versions of the original material. Many buyers are not too fussy, and some might jump at the chance to buy an album that they have never heard of by their favorite artist.

Both counterfeit and pirate CDs contain copies of the original studio or authorized live recordings. Bootlegs on the other hand contain material illicitly recorded at concerts. Sometimes the recording quality is very poor because of restrictions on microphone positioning so as not to be seen.

Morally there is no doubt that counterfeit and pirate CDs are bad because the purchaser gets an inferior product and the producer receives no reward. There is no feature of either that could possibly be seen as redeeming in any way.

Bootlegs are another matter. Many live performances go unrecorded, and so-called 'live recordings' are often doctored in the studio, or compiled from several concerts (and sound checks!), so a bootleg may be the only record of a significant event. Indeed there are many famous bootleg recordings of artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. However, the artists do not get paid, so the moral ground is definitely shaky.

Conclusions: Counterfeit = bad. Pirate = bad. Bootleg... Jury still out!

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