I told myself that as soon as we hit a particularly uninspiring episode, I’d write a little about bootlegs. This one features Billy Curtis as the villainous, and deadly dull, Ringmaster, with Simone Griffeth and H.B. Haggerty as his associates. There’s also a lion, and six of the production team’s kids pretending to be twenty thousand children at a circus. Anyway.
When I was younger, I was very big into VHS tape trading, although I believed that I acted ethically then and only traded unavailable-for-purchase material. I never sold bootleg VHS tapes for cash, and I never bought any.
But then, ah. The world of bootleg DVDs really did change everything, especially in the brazen activities of sellers. Sure, back in the eighties and nineties, you could find bootleg video tapes at every SF con, but by about 2004, you could find them at every dealer. I swear, at Atlanta’s Dragon Con from 2004 to 2006, the only dealers who were NOT selling DVD-Rs of everything under the sun were the games companies.
On one hand, part of me does think these guys served a purpose, once. The Star Wars Holiday Special and Song of the South are a couple of high-profile examples of things that the copyright owners have actively tried to suppress over the years, and you could come up with plenty more films and cartoons. The Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four‘s another one.
Or how about those suppressed Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s? Is there a film fan on the planet who will say that they’re happy about all the hoops they’ve had to jump through to see Jungle Jitters or Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips?
I’ve caved and bought bootleg TV shows exactly twice. In 2005, I bought four episodes of Monster Squad. I never found an episode in the decade that I was trading. Nobody had ever heard of the darn thing, nobody had it. It was hypocritical and unethical of me, but I gave the fellow who had it twenty bucks for a disk of four episodes. There’s no moral justification for it, but I figured that if I was ever to see the darn show again, I didn’t have any other option.
The following year, Mark Evanier wrote about a big bootleg bust at the 2006 Motor City Comic Con, and he had this to say:
The most frequent alibi is that the sellers aren’t really doing it for the money…or at least, doing it just for the money. They’re doing it as a public service since the folks who own the material in question are selfishly or thoughtlessly withholding it from the public. This is another way of saying the rights holders haven’t gotten around yet to issuing the show or movie on home video but still, it almost sounds like a valid point. Doesn’t change the fact that we’re talking here about copyright violations but it sounds good.
And Mark was completely right. I used to think he was about 90% right, but in the last decade, I’ve learned he was absolutely correct, full stop. The really aggravating thing that I’ve learned as I’ve grown older and (a) had to defend my rights to my writing or research from people who have stolen it and (b) utterly failed, twice, to teach two older children that theft of music is wrong is that if Lucas, Disney, or Marvel – wait, they’re all the same thing – don’t want you to own those films, then you don’t really have the right to. They own them. They get to do that. Stealing a copy of Song of the South is no different from stealing a copy of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. I’d really, really like to own Scarecrow, and don’t appreciate Disney’s idiotic limited-release “Vault” program keeping the secondary market prices inflated, but they get to do that.
But before I agreed that bootlegging was wrong, I committed a few other sins. Me and another fellow ran a bootleg CD label for a while, putting out some otherwise unavailable, unreleased live music on low-priced CDs. Probably shouldn’t have done that. And I bought another boot DVD, as I mentioned in this blog once before, going in halfsies with a friend on a mammoth 35-disk set of Batman: all 120 episodes and five disks of bonus features. Shouldn’t have done that either.
I started feeling selfish and wrong about the boots I bought and sold, which is the right way to feel when you’re stealing. And so, when Monster Squad and Batman were released legitimately, I bought official copies. For feeling that I was entitled to have them earlier in life, the copyright owners were entitled to my money as soon as I could put it in Amazon’s cash register.
If you’re reading this and you’ve paid for bootleg DVDs, I hope you’ll do the right thing and replace your copies with official ones. As for us, we won’t blog about programs or movies that have not been legitimately released. In a couple of months, I plan to write a little about two or three properties that I wish we could enjoy for this blog, but can’t, so stay tuned for that.