Bruce Springsteen has struck a blow for law and order. Until last week all his record albums were the well-tooled products of studio recording sessions. That made the Boss a favorite target of bootleggers—audio pirates who capture the raw energy of his famed live performances by secretively recording them and manufacturing albums. Then, bypassing royalty payments, they distribute the unau-
thorized discs under the counter. Springsteen bootlegs account for 144 titles in the 1985 edition of Hot Wax, which lists 3,500 illicit recordings. And a separate listings book— The Bruce Bootleg Bible—is devoted exclusively to the Boss. But last week, with the release of a definitive five-record album, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live/1975-85, the rock star went head-to-head into competition with his unofficial market.
At one time, bootleg recordings came in plain wrappers. The records
inside were notorious for their poor, distorted sound quality. Now the records often appear in colorful boxes complete with song lyrics and even souvenir T-shirts. Many match the sophistication of studio-produced records on major labels. Despite those improvements, the bootleg industry faces troubled times.
Springsteen is only one reason. Stricter law enforcement has pushed the once-relatively open trade under the counters of independent record stores and into the more shadowy world of mailorder catalogues. And the price tag has swollen: average singlealbum bootlegs sell for about $30. The more elaborate, multirecord sets can cost as much as $250. Said Ben Hoffman, president of The Record Peddler, a Toronto retailer who once sold bootlegs but has since renounced them: “Most of the people still in the market are dedicated freaks.”
Certainly, some bootleggers are dedicated capitalists who are undeterred by the fines they may receive under fraud and copyright infringement laws. Others are professional technicians who record directly at concerts and then sell to bootleg manufacturers. And still others are greedy fans who record concerts on concealed tape cassette recorders.
Few bootlegs are produced in Canada. In fact, one major Canadian undertaking was foiled by an April, 1985, raid on a warehouse just north of Toronto, where police seized 10,000 Springsteen albums. The only Boss bootleg ever produced in M substantial numbers in Canada, “ The Promised Land, consisted Q of several hundred copies Ü pressed in Vancouver and sold privately for as much as $200. Because of police crackdowns, the bootleggers have shifted operations from North America to Europe, particularly Germany, and to the Far East. North American pirates are now turning their sights on more challenging quarry—bootleg video cassettes. “It is difficult to believe that someone could get away with videotaping a performance,” said Hoffman. “But there are a lot of fanatics who will try anything.” After Springsteen’s own live releases, they will be facing tough competition.
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