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How One Wildly Popular Bootleg Recording Changed the Music Industry Forever


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In 1969, a Bob Dylan bootleg LP full of unreleased tracks (nicknamed “Great White Wonder” for its blank white cover) became a massive underground hit. The album was produced by two hippies, soon to be known as Pigman and TMQ, named for the small pig illustration and stamp reading “trademark of quality” appearing on each of their bootleg recording. Pigman and TMQ weren’t particularly bothered by legality, and quickly became the targets of officials trying (and failing) to reinforce copyright protection. 

Great White Wonder was a shock to everyone in the music business. It was the beginning and the end. It was beginning, in the form of the first unauthorized bootleg album of a popular major recording artist, but it was also the end of the listening public being told what music they were forbidden to hear or had the right to listen to. GWW had opened the floodgates. The music fans and collectors were thrilled and wanted more records with unreleased songs and tracks by their favorite music icons. They couldn’t get enough. The music businesspeople felt threatened, angry, and wanted to stop these music thieves. They spouted virtuous statements about how the rights and the dignity of the artist were being trampled on. In reality, what really pissed them off was that they weren’t in control, and were losing out on their taste of the profits and a piece of the action. This included the record labels, music publishers, distributors, producers, management, lawyers, big retailers, and some of the artists. The attorneys loved the bootleggers; they made a fortune in fees from their music biz clients, who wanted those damn pirates tracked down and legally run through with a long sharp blade. There were musicians who hated the bootlegs with a passion and others who admired the bootleggers and even collected the underground LPs of themselves. Some artists liked to hear their own live performances through the bootlegs, beyond their sterile studio recordings. Many artists under contract to record labels came to realize how little control they really had over their own work.

The wiser and more enlightened musicians and their management knew that the bootlegs were the greatest free publicity machine that had ever been conceived of by man.

The wiser and more enlightened musicians and their management knew that the bootlegs were the greatest free publicity machine that had ever been conceived of by man. They may have wanted control and approval on what recordings came out on their official albums released by their label, but they also understood the added advantage of appealing to that untapped underground fan base out there that the corporate music world could never reach or understand. It was a tradeoff, as what was lost in control came back in the form of more attention and celebrity. Whatever royalties were not collected from those nasty bootlegs was more than made up for in image and free publicity for these artists. The total amount of money ever made by all the bootleggers was always chump change compared to the profits of the established music business. Because of the very existence of Great White Wonder, and all the bootleg records that followed, more money trickled down for everyone involved in the music business than was ever lost.

There has been much controversy over the years about the legality of rock bootleg records. When Pigman and Carl released the Great White Wonder album in July 1969, no one had done such a thing before. It wasn’t illegal, and there were no laws on the books at the time saying they couldn’t do it. If they were tracked down and served with legal papers, which almost happened to PM, they could have been financially sued and/or fined for not paying publishing or mechanical royalties, and then ordered by a court not to press records of that particular artist or a certain record label, but that was a civil matter and not criminal. (In hindsight, it would have been the right thing to have set up some sort of escrow account to set aside publishing and/or mechanical royalties for the artist/composers based on the recorded tracks for each album sold. Pigman didn’t really want to screw the artists themselves. Sheldon, their attorney, could have set up something like this, and it could have made them and TMQ semi-legit!)

PM, Carl, and later TMQ had never counterfeited a commercial copyrighted recording and pawned it off as a real legitimate record album, which was clearly illegal. That was where someone forges an exact copy of the album cover, label, and sound recording from the original pressing, like counterfeiting money to make it look like the real thing. They sell these exact copies in quantity to a retailer or distributor at a much lower cost than the legitimate record label would have charged. These phony albums are then sold by stores at retail prices to customers who think they’re buying the authentic album manufactured by the record label. The Feds could even get them for illegal interstate transportation of copyrighted material. This was the kind of big time scam that people like the Wise Guys, in their expensive suits, were into. PM, Carl, and TMQ only released albums, in mostly small quantities, of recordings not owned by anyone, or copyrighted or legitimately released within the U.S.

At that time it was not illegal in the United States to: 1. Record a live concert, capturing the sound out of the air. 2. Acquire a recording of a noncopyrighted or unreleased recording of music (unless you were a burglar who got caught breaking into a studio vault and physically stealing the tape). 3. Produce and manufacture a record from the same live recording or acquired tape and then sell it to someone. PM, Carl and TMQ were bootleggers aka pirates, not record album counterfeiters. This was a huge difference according to the law at that time. But the recording industry wanted to lump the bootlegger pirates together with the record counterfeiters in order to manipulate the legal system, and then wipe them all off the face of the earth.

Pigman’s attorney, Sheldon, did an incredible job protecting each of them and their bootleg enterprise, from the early days with Carl, and then later with TMQ and The Big One. He knew the law and told them when they were all right doing one thing, but not another. PM always listened and followed his instructions.

(Pigman had once been warned that there were three artists at that time who were considered too dangerous to mess with and untouchable by record pirates and counterfeiters: Glenn Miller(!), Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. PM stayed away from those artists, but a friend of his made the mistake of producing three bootleg LPs of old Sinatra radio broadcasts. Sheldon had to do some fancy footwork to smooth that one over; otherwise, PM’s friend could have ended up becoming food for the fishes off Santa Monica Pier.)

At one point, to help protect them, Sheldon had recommended that PM make a bright goldenrod yellow sticker to put on the front of the album jackets, with a disclaimer statement printed in black ink: “No relationship whatsoever exists between this recording and any recording company, nor between this recording and the recording artist(s). This record is not produced under a license of any kind from a recording company nor the recording artist(s), and neither the recording company nor artist(s) receives a fee or royalty of any kind from this record. Permission to produce this record has not been sought nor obtained from any party whatsoever.”

Another loophole which PM and Carl had taken advantage of, without even knowing the wisdom of it at the time, was calling the first album “Great White Wonder,” without the name or a picture of Bob Dylan anywhere on the album or record. Sometimes, a label’s legal department or a manager’s attorney would go after someone for using an artist’s “name and likeness” without permission. But there was no name or likeness on GWW. The “Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be” album by The Rolling Stones was the same, and didn’t have their name or picture on it either. On the original record label, the Stones were called The Greatest Group on Earth, and fans knew who it was. Looking back, PM thought it would have been smarter never to have put any real name or picture on any of their bootlegs. The fans and collectors would know whose music was on any of the bootleg albums, and it would have slowed down The Record Suits, lawyers, detectives, and anyone else coming after them. That was one of the coolest aspects of the bootlegs; fans and collectors were hip to what was really going on, and they wanted their music, no matter what.

The controversy about the copyright of sound recordings in the United States goes back to the copyright law of 1909. An original musical composition could be copyrighted, but a recorded performance of it could not. What could be copyrighted was the “visible expression of creative effort.” In other words, the written manuscript or printed version of the musical score and/or the words, the music, and/or lyrics, which was visual and could be seen with the eye, could be protected under the copyright. The sound recording of the musical performance of that piece of music could not be protected by the copyright because it was not visual and, therefore, not included in the law. Ironically, the printed words or text on the record label and/or album sleeve or jacket could be copyrighted because that was visual.

In 1909, the Edison cylinders and players, the phonograph, and the early disc records were not taken seriously by the lawmakers, and were merely considered novelties of the time. Those sounds embedded in the record grooves were not protected under U.S. law until the early 1970s. But there was a catch.

On October 15, 1971, the 92nd Congress of the United States passed an updated copyright law regarding sound recordings, but there were limits, conditions, and exceptions written into the new law. This law “shall apply only to sound recordings fixed, published and copyrighted on and after the effective date of this act,” which was February 15, 1972. In other words, the law only protected newly published recordings commercially released on or after that date, and did not retroactively cover recordings released before that date. The new law also stated a major exception to the sound recording copyright protection: “… That this right does not extend to the making or duplication of another sound recording that is an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording….” In plain language, this says that older commercially released recordings, live recordings, alternate takes, outtakes, and unreleased tracks were still not covered under the newer copyright law, unless they were published and commercially released on a record or pre-recorded tape on or after that February 15, 1972 date. Therefore, if Pigman, Carl, or TMQ recorded a live concert, acquired a tape copy of some unreleased studio recordings, or even made a copy from an existing earlier commercial record, and then produced, manufactured, and sold an LP of this recording, it was not unlawful or illegal under U.S. law, even after the newer February 15, 1972 copyright law went into effect. The bottom legal line was this: If the recording of a song was a different version or if the recording wasn’t commercially released, it wasn’t protected under the new copyright law.

Pigman and The Big One explained to their nervous TMQ and Iguana Record Export Service wholesale bootleg accounts what was going on with the new copyright law: “… On the reverse of this letter is a reproduction of the recent legislation on sound copyrighting. We want our customers to know the law. This new law states that it is unlawful to make any mechanical copies of legitimate product, copyrighted or manufactured on or after February 15, 1972. We wish to clarify the point that we do not copy legitimate sound material available through normal channels. We only handle that which is unavailable on the record market elsewhere. We believe that you have the right to make these collectors’ items available to your customers. In short you may rest assured that ‘TRADE MARK OF QUALITY’ records are not unlawful. If this product was illegal we wouldn’t handle it! We hope this will clarify any doubts that might have existed before.” This information was sent to all wholesale bootleg accounts.

Newer revised U.S. copyright laws covering sound recordings, finally complying with the older and stricter Berne Convention copyright laws on sound recordings, was not ratified by the U.S. until 1974. Before the end of that year, Pigman would be going off in a different direction.

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Excerpted from A PIG’S TALE. Copyright © 2021 Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick. Reprinted with permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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