My first conscious encounter with intellectual property piracy came in the person of the next door neighbor we had when I was about ten, a big man in every sense in the word, a sort of force of nature. Al W. used to make extra money by selling 8-track tapes in the Englishtown flea market on weekends. These 8-tracks were obvious fakes; back in the days before color laser printers, he’d have the cheapest possible labels listing the artist, album and song he was stealing from printed up and slapped onto the bootleg cartridges, which he manufactured on a machine that ran all day and night in his basement. They sounded like it.
I was just a little kid and it was obvious to me that this was crooked. Stealing.
Later on in life I encountered bootleg records, mainly in the form of Grateful Dead concert recordings — regarding which the band was, apparently, “cool” — and, later, the popular bootleg of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” of which which he later released a much lamer authorized version. And there were not too many programming rules at WPRB, where I was college disc jockey, in those days, but one hard and fast one was: Never play bootlegs on the air. Ever. Because they are against the law.
My point that well before patent trolling, IP over-reaching and all the stuff I write about on this blog, everyone knew that bootlegged music was against the law and, in addition, wrong (except perhaps regarding the Dead — perhaps).
Thirty or so years later, I’m listening to NPR last night there was some sort of program discussing Steve Jobs, and they interspersed the narrative with thoughts from various commentators, including his last biography, Walter Isaacson. Here’s a link to an October program involving Isaacson’s book, but I can’t find the transcript from last night. Which is a shame, because I was struck by a couple of IP-related comments by the late founder of a company which is at the center of so much litigation, arbitrage and business planning premised on IP enforcement.
Earlier in the program, Isaacson is quoted as referring to Jobs’s hippy-like aspect, referring at one point to asking him, during an interview, “What’s on the IPod now?” And up comes what Isaacson describes as a “Dylan bootleg.” That’s interesting, I thought; but, hey no one’s perfect I guess.
But then later on, Isaacson is talking about what a “perfectionist” Jobs was — there are other words for it, if you read this article, one of which is of the sort I don’t use on this blog — and he analogizes to another “bootleg” that Jobs would listen to, one in which John Lennon, then a Beatle, keeps doing take after take after take until he gets some harmony just right.
Well, you know, Steve Jobs was a genius. And, like Bob Dylan he plays by different rules, I guess, than their customers. Inspiring!