Basic Bootleg Q&A

Q: What Is a Bootleg, don Juan?

A: In the Son of the bootleg FAQ, a bootleg is a Frank Zappa recording that was issued for profit (on a non-tape medium) without Zappa's or the appropriate record company's permission. (Occasional cassettes do squeak by - if you have a cassette bootleg that you want to get listed, go for it and we'll see what happens.) 

But over the years, a bootleg has been almost anything illegitimate and illegal. Originally, to bootleg was to smuggle things by hiding them in the legs of your boots - the same hiding place has been used for liquor bottles during periods of probation and for smuggling tape recorders past security to record live concerts.

Many people distinguish between bootleg records and pirate or counterfeit records, in that a bootleg contains unique material and does not try to look legitimate, wheras a pirate or counterfeit issue copies officially released material and tries to look like a legit release. (The distinction between officially released and unreleased material is clear, but the difference in trying to look legitimate is not.) The Son of the Bootleg FAQ tries to deal with both types.

Q: Are Bootlegs Illegal, don Juan?

A: Most of them are. Some are/were legal because they were made in countries that have, or had at the time, very fuzzy or loopholey legislation (Italy and Japan spring to mind). It's usually illegal to export these to other countries, and to import and sell them. I don't know? I'm like into the clean stuff, y'know, like PAC MAN, and ....

Q: Legal or Not - Aren't They Unethical?

A: You decide. Frank Zappa disliked all bootlegs very much, and so do many Zappa fans. Of course bootleggers take output control away from the artist (or record company), and their product (generally) does not generate royalties. Some of them are cheap rip-off jobs issued only for a quick profit; some of them are labours of love that bootleggers are losing money on. Many people hate them, and many people love them, for various reasons. On these pages, we suspend judgement (although the occasional scornful sarcasm or appreciative wink may be detectable between the lines) - you be the judge. Certainly, no one is SELLING bootlegs around here. This is pure documentation for a special brand of hard-core fanatics. If Zappa could record songs like "Jumbo, Go Away" and "The Illinois Enema Bandit" and call them "SOCIAL DOCUMENTARIES" or "AMATEUR ANTHROPOLOGY", there is no reason why there can't be a bootleg FAQ under the same premises. The crimes of Michael Kenyon were far worse than any act of bootlegging, however vile. To argue that the bootleg FAQ is condoning bootlegging is like arguing that Zappa supported those crimes. 

Q: Do Bootlegs Put Record Companies / Artists Out of Business?

A: yes and no. If, say, Zappa planned to release an album and a bootlegger got hold of a tape of the album and released it before he did, it could of course cause him very serious financial damage if such a bootleg was sufficiently distributed. On the other hand, the kind of bootlegs that offer unreleased or deleted material, that the artist does not plan to release, are

  1. complements to, not replacement of, the official collection, and
  2. usually not supported by a large enough market base to threaten anyone.

This is hardly a water-tight defense, though, because who can tell what material an artist plans to release in the future? 

(Of course, in some countries the market is flooded by counterfeit copies of pop albums passed off as the real thing - that's the ultimate threat, but it's something completely different.)


A: Beat the Boots and Beat the Boots II are "Official Zappa bootlegs". Zappa decided to licence a few bootleg recordings to Rhino Records for legitimate release, because he couldn't stand that someone was making money off of these albums and he didn't get any of it. They have the original (bad) bootleg sound and (ugly) bootleg covers. He figured the bootleggers wouldn't exactly sue him for copying their "product", but one of them did consider it - for reproducing the artwork. Anyway, the bootlegs that were reproduced were:

You can read more in the Beat the Boots entry in the Return of the Son of the Vinyl vs CDs FAQ.

Q: What About These CD-Rs?

"I don't mind the grapevine. What I mind is guys who rip me off and make a profit from it. It depends on what the intent is. If the intent is to rip me off, then I hate it. If the intent is to find out what's going on, then I think it's fabulous."
Frank Zappa, Society Pages USA #2, 1990

A: Many Zappa fans trade CD-Rs instead of buying bootlegs. People have taped shows from the audience, people have taped bootleg albums, and sometimes soundboard tapes have leaked out, and copies of these tapes circulate among fans (some people call these tapes "boots" too - we don't do that here). Trading is cheaper and less illegal than buying bootlegs - and even though Zappa (sometimes through Smothers :) tried to stop tapers sometimes, he didn't mind people swapping the tapes for free, if they were tapes of non-album material. A list of live tapes in chronological order (FZSHOWS) is maintained by my countryman Jon Naurin. If you want to get into tape-trading, there used to be a web page for Zappa traders, which is gone, but of course the Usenet newsgroup is still there, trolled as it is. Hopefully and probably, you will find it a lot easier to get tapes than to find bootleg records.

Foonote (big): MP3 copies are being posted to binary newsgroups and traded in IRC channels. As of summer 2002, one active such channel had a homepage at

Q: Why Are There So Many Re-Issues of Bootlegs?
It's a Jungle Out There!

A: When your product is illegal in the first place, you can't of course copright it, and you can't take legal action if someone copy it. So people copy. (Besides, bootlegging is often a small-time venture, and supply rarely meets public demand. There is a market for re-issues.) In the vinyl age, this was very common; in the CD age, it is the rule.

Q: Aren't Bootleg Albums Obsolete in This Age of Inexpensive CD Writers?

A: Certainly!
Q: What are you going to do with all the other sleighbells?
A: We'll overdub them!

Q: YOU Seem to Know a Lot About These Bootlegs. Do You Have Them All?

(Maybe I even MAKE them, in order to have something to list (the famed anti-virus guys writing new viruses to keep up demand for new anti-virus software theory)? Besides, you even heard on that I was a bootlegger? Well? Well?)

A: I don't know everything about bootlegs; most of the time, I only write what people tell me to write. I definitely do NOT own them - usually, not even tapes of them. And I didn't make them either. To tell you the truth, I don't even own Apocrypha. My birthday is November 26.

More questions, or still not convinced?
Or have a good copy of 18 LEGENDARY WEAPONS simplified Chinese - the fifth character is just too complicated in traditional Chinese for a low-resolution GIF?
Male me.

banned in the USA


home - vinyl vs CDs - weirdo discography - bootlegs - misc - hot lynx - e-mail us at zappa dot patio at gmail dot com 2006-04-22 20:02

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