Sunday, September 2, 2007

Doing time for bootlegging

A guy against whom Jimmy Page testified in court pleaded guilty last month to charges stemming from his selling bootlegged recordings of Led Zeppelin and other bands. Now the guy has been sentenced to 20 months in jail.

Not long ago, a Zep fan who attended the trial in Scotland compiled his recollection of the questions and answers with Jimmy on the stand. If accurate, this account provides some insight into Jimmy's misunderstood stance on bootlegs.

What can't be mistaken is Jimmy's statement that some tapes of his went missing over 20 years ago, taken from his personal stash at home. One must assume this was the source of some Zep studio outtakes that have circulated through the years, plus soundboard recordings from live shows now common to collectors. At any rate, it gives Jimmy the opportunity to elucidate on the ethics of bootlegging.

The main argument against it is that unsanctioned bootlegs aren't really worth the prices they're charging due to their questionable quality. It is Jimmy's argument now, and it was the same one Zep manager Pete Grant had back in the '70s. Now, many bootlegs are of good quality, but Jimmy has noticed bootleggers release the same shows over and over again, each time improving the sound quality a little so as to capitalize on each sequential release.

It's capitalism at its most egregious because no matter what the price, people will buy it. The veracity of Zep fans translates to a big demand for these recordings. It's a compliment to the band, for sure, and a testament to how electrifying the band was in its shows and how important they are to the history of rock 'n' roll.

But who profits from it? People who don't have the right to release these recordings in the first place, that's who. And not Jimmy. Hence the frustration he experiences. Other people are controlling the name and image of Led Zeppelin when they release these bootlegs, and they're reaping the benefits too. Peter Grant made it so that only the band could do those things: They would retain control over their image and music, and they would get 90% of the gate at their shows. Peter allowed it no other way. Jimmy is evidently doing Peter's work..

Recording shows for your personal enjoyment? Fine, says Jimmy. Sharing recordings among fans? Yes, short of financial gain, he says. Get money involved, and that's when he objects.

But doesn't Jimmy have a habit of visiting Japanese bootleg shops? True, he visits those shops and even gets his photo taken with fans. He doesn't deny that. And he even smiles in the photos. He doesn't want to be a jerk to fans, does he? But what about the bootlegs he collects there? He doesn't pay for them. Why would he? They're his. Who has the right to own them? He does. In Japan, they don't challenge him.

Twenty months. Does the punishment fit the crime? Sound off.

4 comments:

  1. Go to http://www.bootlegzone.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=11600&highlight=&sid=a1822c7349ec0366243d6ab3f8103515 and scroll down to the post by TerminusJThrenody. The fan's recollections of the court proceedings have been posted there.

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  2. Overall, I think Jimmy "gets it" with respect to the whole idea of fans trading tapes of shows.  But it seems to me that he still underestimates the marketability of archival releases from raw soundboard feeds, regardless of whether he thinks it's a good performance or not.  The Grateful Dead demonstrated the success of that business model years ago, and I'm surprised how few bands have picked up on it.  If Zep was to start releasing some of this stuff in the vault that Page says "is under lock and key," I think they'd clean up.  Likewise for bands like Floyd and The Who, who have practically NOTHING live out there from their peak performance years.

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  3. Plant is on the record as being embarrassed by his early vocal stylings. Jones, who cherishes Zeppelin’s live legacy, is busy doing things other than reliving the past. That leaves Page, who actually has invested time in several large-scale projects to package previously unreleased recordings and to remaster the old picture in a new frame.

    However, he is a perfectionist who takes years on a project before he deems it ready for release, all because he prefers not to authorize anything substandard. So, for one thing, that accounts for why new Led Zeppelin releases are so few and far between. But on the other hand, it gives us evidence of a subtle hypocrisy in Page's reasoning.

    According to the fan’s personal recollection of Page’s testimony -- which is unconfirmed, mind you --Page referenced in court that he played some Led Zeppelin concerts with three fingers.

    True, this happened at the beginning of the 1975 tour; see http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/LedZeppelinHistory/message/418

    But he said that he would never release recordings from those three-finger performances because they’re not up to par.

    If he really said that, then I’d like to know why he performed at those concerts in the first place.

    I mean, if releasing recordings of those shows would be cheating fans, then why was allowing himself to play at all on those nights fair to the tens of thousands of fans in each of those audiences?

    Admittedly, he’s still a trillion times better at guitar using three fingers than most guitarists using 50. So he didn't sound THAT bad back then.

    But if that's his view now, it's a rather inconsistent one. This is the same perfectionist we're talking about here taking years to perfect each posthumous Led Zeppelin collection. And he played shows with an injury that limited his fretwork capabilities.

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  4. There really is no way to effectively stop people from profiting illegally on the sale of bootleg material. A certain segment of the population will always try to capitalize on something they probably got for free that can be duplicated with relative ease given today's technology. I think it's a question of conscience. Bands can only do so much and their pockets are so deep that the revenue lost is but a pittance to them. A couple of solutions, put a call out for all masters that fans recorded back in the day, clean them up as much as possible and release them officially for a very reasonable price (I'd pay $5.00 per CD with minimal packaging/record sleeve holder) with the caveat that the quality isn't going to be what you normally associate with the band both recording wise and performance wise in some instances. I'd be willing to bet the original tapers would jump at the chance to have their work receive official sanctioning. Two, make everything available for download in a lossless format, no mp3 crap, with printable artwork at a slightly lower price than a physical CD. Jimmy Page has to realize that the people collecting bootlegs are hardcore fans, not the casual listener. As a gift for the support of a truly fortunate lifestyle, Led Zeppelin could set up a download service for a minimal subscription fee again in lossless format. Get the material out there into the hands of as many super fans as possible and you'll do alot to stem the tide of people profiting illegally like this guy, http://www.stellarproducts.biz. The main reason he's able to crank out bootlegs on his home computer and sell them is because some people just aren't savvy enough to get it for free through trading/downloading. I think with a lot of bands, there's the control/legacy issue. Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who have rock solid foundations that will last generations to come. In the next fifty years, the members of those bands will all be gone and they will have no control over what happens to any of their recorded output. Might as well make hay while the sun is shining and open up the vaults completely. It's gonna take place sooner or later and you might as well be around when it happens. Think about it like this, if recording technology had existed in Mozart's time do you think that a slightly inferior recording of a solo piano concerto performance in 1783 would be balked at by music scholars? In this day and time, I think that tape would either be ubiquitous or completely ignored given the ever changing musical landscape. The primary audience for that these days would be hardcore Mozart devotees.

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