New York Times Curious Stand On Bootleg Albums

Bob Dylan has been bootlegged so many times that Greil Marcus is writing a book about it.

Are bootleg recordings cool? That seems to be the position

the New York Times took yesterday in an article written by their staff

writer Jon Pareles. The way Pareles sees it, bootlegs get material out that

only hardcore fans want, and don't take away from sales of legitimate albums.

He also thinks they provide a service in giving fans an unvarnished look at

their heroes, blemishes and all. He notes that if not for bootlegs, certain

important recordings of live jazz performances would be lost to history. What

he doesn't deal with is a key financial issue. The writers of songs normally

receive a royalty for each copy of an album that is sold. That's a key way that

songwriters make a living. When a bootleg recording is sold, the bootlegger

keeps all the money. So the person who actually created the song doesn't get

paid. Not too cool. The artist doesn't get paid either. Now some would argue

that most of the artists whose work is bootlegged don't need the money, but

that makes no sense at all. If, say, an album is being sold of R.E.M. material,

R.E.M. should get royalties. Certainly, some guy with a DAT tape recorded who

spent a few grand two press up 1000 CDs shouldn't be making money while the

songwriter and the artist get the shaft. Pareles make some interesting points

about the effect of bootlegs on artists, noting that much of the material on

the new Beatles collection was originally available on bootleg, and that may

have prompted its release. Still, kind of weird to find the New York

Times of all places supporting bootleggers.