To Live Outside the Law, You Must be Honest


MY one-way love affair with the greatest and most profound poet of my generation is without doubt obsessive.

And  it now borders on criminal.

So how did I come to live outside the law?

There lies a small story…

I’ll take you back to 1973… the hippy summers of love, acid overdoses and flower garlands were long past, and glam rock ruled.

Loon leg flares, penny collar shirts, Slade, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, T Rex and Top of the Pops were the now magnets for us Baby Boom kids.

And as a music mad teenager, I had already found Bowie and hid a guilty pleasure for also liking Marc Bolan.

But my real love was just about to be discovered.

A fellow student in my sixth form was a Bob Dylan fanatic – he even had hair like him and was forever being reprimanded by teachers for not wearing a tie and wearing baggy, non-regulation jumpers.

One day I asked him why he was so obsessed with Bob Dylan?

His blue eyes sparkled as my question registered and with unexpected enthusiasm he sat down and regaled me about the ‘greatness’ of Mr Dylan.

The next day he leant me Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits on vinyl LP and suggested I should get a copy of Blonde on Blonde to discover the real Dylan.

I was bemused, but eager to listen and so began my journey.

First, I bought a copy of More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits simply because the 21 tracks double album seemed like good value. Then I sought out a copy of Blonde on Blonde, which I had to order from my local record store as it had been released some seven years earlier, and was out of stock!

A week or two later, CBS suddenly released Dylan’s film soundtrack album Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and the single Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door made the UK charts!

So armed with two double albums, plus the Heaven’s Door single I was beginning to discover Dylan… and it didn’t take long before I was hooked. His voice like sand and glue and words of truthful vengeance had me pinned to the floor, and like those before me I started to dissect his lyrics and find a new meaning to living.

More Greatest Hits was a delight. From Watching the River Flow to Crash on the Levee I was entering into his world of music and poetry.

I spent the rest of my sixth form and university years buying up Dylan’s back catalogue of albums on cassette tape and allowing his music and words to become the soundtrack to all I did.

Another Side of Bob Dylan and The Times They are a Changin’ led me to discover folk music and in turn Fairport Convention, while the awesome Planet Waves and Desire wrapped me up in stories, vignettes, lyrics and emotion I had never previously known.

Concerts came and concerts went, but the official CBS records and tapes were never enough to satiate my hunger.

Then during 1987-88, while I was hospitalised in Cardiff with cancer, a new world of Bob Dylan was unexpectedly opened to me.

To while away the hours and weeks of radiotherapy, my mum bought me a copy of Robert Shelton’s definitive Dylan biography No Direction Home.

I consumed the book in a couple of days. But it was while meandering through the appendices that I noted mention of a quarterly Bob Dylan fan / information magazine, simply titled The Telegraph.

With an annual subscription of just £10, including delivery, I wrote off and instantly subscribed to this gem.

And so began the expansion of my world of Bob Dylan and an enduring friendship with the magazine’s editor John Bauldie.

The first edition of my subscription (the autumn 1987 issue) to The Telegraph arrived at my hospital bedside within a fortnight.

Soon I was scouring and digesting its every page… and the reams of small ads in its supplement.

One advert shouted out to me.

A Dylan collector in Denmark was offering for sale cassette tapes of his many concerts at just £1.50 a time!

Enthused, and bored by hospital and this bloody thing called cancer, I sent off for a list of the tapes this guy named Andy, had for sale.

Within a few weeks a parcel of 12 Bob Dylan concert tapes arrived in a protectively wrapped brown paper parcel.

With a set of fresh batteries for my Sony Walkman, I began to listen to these previously unknown jewels that had arrived.

These included the famed 1978 Blackbushe Aerodrome gig, the 1984 Wembley concert, some outtakes from Infidels, and six audience recordings from his ongoing 1987 tour.

The sound quality between the tapes varied greatly from crackly and poor to just amazing and crystal clear.

But I was hooked, delighted and so began my passion for collecting Dylan recordings, which has now lasted all my life.

Now like many Dylan fanatics, I own all of his 37 studio albums, 11 Live albums, 12 albums comprising the official The Bootleg Series, and too many compilation and greatest hits collections to mention.

And my bootleg CD collection (which replaced the tapes sometime in the 1990s) has grown in tandem with glistening rarities that I once only dreamed of.

As I write this, I have just ordered from a fellow Bob Cat, a CD of previously unrecognised studio recordings from 1986.

It is due to arrive by the end of the week!

My passion is certainly an obsession… but a happy one.

But as a collector of bootleg recordings, am I breaking the law, and how legal is legal anyway?

And what exactly is a bootleg?

According to Wikipedia, the online fount of all knowledge: A bootleg recording is an audio or video recording of a performance that was not officially released by the artist or under other legal authority. The process of making and distributing such recordings is known as bootlegging.

Recordings may be copied and traded among fans of the artist without financial exchange, but some bootleggers have sold recordings for profit, sometimes by adding professional-quality sound engineering and packaging to the raw material.

Bootlegs usually consist of either unreleased studio recordings or live performances, with an unpredictable level of quality.

Changing technologies have impacted on the recording, distribution, and varying profitability of the underground industry. The copyrights for the song and the right to authorise recordings often reside with the artist, according to several international copyright treaties.

The recording, trading and sale of bootlegs continues to thrive, however, even as artists and record companies attempt to provide officially-released alternatives to satisfy the demand.

While, Wikipedia is, in essence correct, there is a lot more to the definition, the law and the practise of collecting bootleg CDs.

Bootleg is a term that is bandied about freely by many people to refer to a wide array of things.

Within the music industry, everything from the traditional bootleg, to pirates, to copies, to counterfeits have at one time or another been called a bootleg.

Most of the lay population use some or all of the terms above interchangeably.

But these terms are distinctive, and to live outside the law, you must be honest:


Once you become the legal user of copyrighted material (by purchasing a recording such as a CD), the material is yours to use and enjoy within the guidelines of the copyright.

The guidelines of the copyright, however, are extremely restrictive. It is generally accepted that the user should be allowed to make one copy or backup solely for her/his own use.

There is never permission to make more than one copy.  There is never permission to give, sell, or share this backup copy with another. This one (and only one) piece made for individual use is what the industry call a copy.


If you choose to make more than one copy of copyrighted material, you have moved to this level. You have violated the copyright, and therefore, the law.

Whether you are making one or two copies to give to friends, or 50 copies to sell at a car boot sale, it is illegal.

These multiple illegal copies are what industry insiders refer to as pirates or pirate copies.


While most of us would have to admit to at some point, knowingly or unknowingly, producing a pirated copy … no one has ever accidentally made a counterfeit.

As with counterfeit money, the term counterfeit refers to the exact duplication of an item. In terms of counterfeit CDs, this is exact down to the cover artwork.

These duplicates aren’t made by accident. They are made to deceive the public into thinking they are buying an original product when they are not.  Millions have been lost by musicians due to these practices. Everybody loses except for the individual thieves who pocket all of the profits.


Everything that you have read so far is what a bootleg is NOT.

Now, for what a bootleg is.

Copyrights work in many ways on many different levels. Once a song is completed it is automatically copyrighted. The fact that the writer put it down to paper or tape gives him/her an immediate copyright.

The copyright also gives the owner the right to profit from any commercial use of the song.

But a bootleg album or CD is one that has been created completely from material that is NOT commercially available, and therein lies the legal bypass of copyright.

The material might be from an interview, radio broadcast, recording from a live concert, studio outtake tapes etc.

The bootlegger will take this material and affix it to a record or CD album to be distributed in very small quantities. Sometimes as many as a thousand … sometimes as few as a hundred or less.

The releases are not going to be mass marketed … they’re only intended for a handful of collectors worldwide.

Collectors who are usually so dedicated to the artist they collect that they will surely own every commercially available piece offered by the artist.

As in the examples of Bob Dylan’s Royal Albert Hall concert, or the Basement Tapes, if a bootleg item is ever released officially, the bootleg collector will be the first person in line to pay money for the released version.

For the most part, we are talking about recordings that would never see the light of day any other way.

The major labels could never afford to release all of this material that would only interest a handful of fanatical fans worldwide.

Although in the case of Bob Dylan, his record label has in the past 25 years seen the light and began slowly to release the official Bootleg Series of albums. To date 12 such titles have been released, but often, as is the case of the most recent one The Cutting Edge, in highly priced packages of multiple CDs – the 18 CD option cost £640!

Generally, the only alternative to real bootlegs is for the performances to be forever lost.

Looking back to the roots of blues, jazz, country, and rock music; there are multiple thousands of lost performances and artists that we will never hear.

I any case, most bootleg collectors only ever trade their CDs with other collectors and rarely buy or sell.

This past week I have updated my collection of some 230 bootleg Bob Dylan albums with a rare double CD – a live recording from Seattle in January 1980, which until recently Dylan enthusiasts believed did not exist.

I have also added an amazing collection of 14 soundboard CDs from his 1965 concerts and a similar 14 CD boxed set of soundboards from 1978-81… the recording quality is astounding.

But while in the past 25 years I have spent well over £1,000 on official Bob Dylan CDs, the cost of my 230 bootlegs has been a small fraction of that… maybe £200 at most.

The simple reason is, I have traded copies from my collection with other fanatics like me.

So is it illegal to own bootlegs? 

No.  You do not have to worry about the record police coming to knock on your door!

Is it illegal to sell a bootleg? 

If you are a private citizen and have one or two bootlegs in your collection and are ready to put them on the collectors’ market … don’t worry.  If you are thinking of going into business selling bootlegs, you had better consult a good lawyer!

Is it illegal to manufacture a bootleg? 

In the UK, yes it is! There is a multitude of differing laws in some parts of Europe (notably Italy and the Netherlands) and the USA. Most industrialised, capitalist countries have some type of law on the books regarding the copyrights of recorded music. However, some are lax and some are completely ineffectual.

So with all that in place, I reiterate Bob Dylan’s own words: to live outside the law, you must be honest.

Author: seagullnic

Writer, editor, lecturer and part-time musician. Passions in life: my family, Bob Dylan, music of many genres, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, cooking plus good food and wine.

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