A bootleg recording is a video or musical recording, distributed for profit or other financial compensation, that was not officially released by the artist (or their associated management or production companies), or under other legal authority.
Some artists consider any release for which they do not receive royalties to be equivalent to a bootleg, even if it is an officially licensed release. This is often the case with artists whose recordings have either become public domain or whose original agreements did not include reissue royalties (which was a common occurrence in the 1950s and before).
Sources of material
Some bootlegs consist of works-in-progress or discarded material distributed against the artist's will; these might be made from master recordings stolen or copied from a recording studio or a record label's offices, or from demo recordings not meant to be shared with a wide audience.
Bootleg albums can also be recorded 'unofficially' with gear smuggled into a live concert—many artists and most live venues prohibit such recording, but modern portable recording technology has made such bootlegging increasingly easy and has dramatically improved the quality of 'audience' recordings. A number of bootlegs originated with FM radio broadcasts of live or previously recorded live performances.
An increasing number of artists, have allowed and encouraged live audience recording, but they and their fans generally consider selling such recordings—as opposed to keeping them for one's own personal enjoyment or trading them for other audience recordings—to be illegitimate bootlegging. Fans cite the encouragement of bootleg recordings as a key factor in their long-term loyalty to these bands.
Bootlegging in the vinyl era
In Los Angeles there were a number of record mastering and pressing plants that were not 'first in line' to press records for the major labels, usually only getting work when the larger plants were overloaded. These pressing plants were more than happy to generate income by pressing bootlegs of dubious legality. Sometimes they just hid the bootleg work when record company executives would come around (in which case the bootleg record labels could show the artist and song names) and other times secrecy required labels with fictitious names.
Collectors generally relied on Hot Wacks, which was a catalog of known bootlegs published annually, for the actual aritsts and track listings as well as source and sound quality information. Another source readily available to vinyl collectors has been Dust Traxx Records in Chicago which provides limited release bootlegs of top 10 artists. The market outlets for bootlegs have been varied. Swap meets, record collector shows, and smaller record stores would stock them, and there have been assorted unique sources for individual bands. There were major bootleg markets in Japan and Europe for bands like the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones.
Many bootleg albums have since been released officially by the copyright holder, in response to the Internet-fueled success of albums which they had not intended to release. The release of Anthology albums effectively killed the demand for many bootlegs previously available. A few artists have responded to the demand for bootleg concert recordings by experimenting with the sale of 'official' bootlegs made directly from the unmixed soundboard feeds or on-the-fly multi-track mixes, and thus superior to surreptitious audience recordings which are typically marred by crowd noise. These releases are generally available a few days to a few weeks after the concert.
In the mid-2000s, improving technology in high-speed compact disc reproduction made some of these 'official boots' available to audience members immediately as they leave the concert; however, a key patent in the process (that of dividing the single recording into discrete digitally marked tracks) was bought by media giant Clear Channel Communications, which has led to complaints from smaller competitors and uncertainty on the future development of the technology in the United States.
Recently bootlegs have become the term for a style of remix, melding two or more music records into each other to make a new piece of music out of the old components. These type of records area also referred to as mash ups or bastard pop.
Bootlegging vs. piracy
Bootlegging is often incorrectly referred to as piracy but there is an important difference between the two terms. Bootlegging is trafficking in recordings that the record companies have not commercially released. Piracy is the illegal copying/sale of recordings that are available commercially, or are planned/scheduled for commercial release. Although bootlegging is not legitimate since it infringes copyright interests, it can at least claim it is giving music fans something they want that is unobtainable from official sources. Piracy however cannot make such a moral claim since it directly substitutes for the equivalent official product.
A pirate release is further to be distinguished from counterfeiting. Counterfeit releases attempt to mimic the look of officially released product, while pirate releases do not necessarily do so. Therefore, a counterfeit is always a pirate, but a pirate is not necessarily a counterfeit. 'Bootlegging' is sometimes used to refer to the unlicensed filesharing of copyrighted music, but as alluded to above, the term piracy is often more appropriate.
The sale, distribution, and receipt of bootlegs is illegal. To protect the consumers from the (extremely unlikely) possiblility of litigation, care must be taken to separate the illegal aspects of bootlegging from the (perfectly legal) academic discussion of them. Bootleg lists, actual trades, bids, and the like should not be posted. Caution should be exercised for the protection of both the consumer and the traders themselves.
Small (non-chain) record stores that advertise 'New-Old-Used' records almost always carry bootleg albums and CDs, as well as some out-of-print recordings. Goldmine and Record Collector magazine can be scanned for sources, though Goldmine no longer allows small collectors to specifically advertise bootlegs. Tape trading, the most popular form of collecting, is usually restricted to individuals rather than organizations or companies. Though beginning collectors often have no choice, many tape traders frown upon the 'sale' of bootlegs, preferring 'even' trades (sometimes with postage compensation) to buying and selling.