Hamilton: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart are little more than blurs on the video screen as the camera bounces up, down and around. The members of Rush are performing, probably on a stage, but the song title is anyone's guess. The music is barely discernable.
All in all, the quality of the video - entitled Rush Rehearsal, Copps Coliseum Oct. 22/91 - can best be described as wretched.
It was one of more than 3,000 bootleg videotapes, DVDs, CDs, audiocassettes and CD-Rs (writeable compact discs) seized by the RCMP from a record show held June 13 at the Ramada hotel in Hamilton.
Yesterday, the bootlegs covered several tables in a small room at the RCMP's local offices. The Mounties were holding a news conference to announce the laying of five charges under the Copyright Act against a 43-year-old Hamilton man allegedly selling them at the show.
There was a DVD of Shania Twain's September show at Copps Coliseum, the Nickelback concert from earlier this year, a Bob Dylan DVD from his March show at Toronto's Ricoh Centre, and piles of CDs featuring the Rolling Stones at last summer's SARS concert. There were Springsteen concerts from New Jersey, Neil Young in Italy, even a 1969 Johnny Cash video. Most are poor recordings taped with hand-held cameras from the stands. Some are labelled "all rights reversed, unauthorized copying of this recording is strictly authorized."
The bootlegs were recorded without permission of the artists. They receive no royalty from the sales. The Copyright Act carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a fine of $1 million.
The 85-minute Rush rehearsal VHS, identifiable only by a stick-on label on the outside of its box, could probably have been bought for about $15 or $20, a ripoff even for the most diehard fan.
Brian Robertson, longtime president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, said it was the largest seizure of bootleg videos and DVDs he'd ever seen. The association, which represents all of the country's major record labels, has its own investigators watching for bootleggers. In this case, those investigators tipped off the RCMP to the alleged crime.
"It's never usually this open or this transparent or at this volume," said Robertson, who attended the RCMP news conference yesterday.
DVD sales are one of the ways in which the ailing recording industry is hoping to make up some of the ground it has lost to Internet downloading. Many major artists, including Rush and Shania Twain, have plans to release elaborately packaged concert DVDs.
The bootleg market consists largely of collectors and completist fans, who have already purchased most of their favourite artists' legitimate releases.
The industry is now worried, however, that fans who have purchased bootleg videos will shy away from official ones, Robertson said.
Artists are also concerned about the quality.
"The band spent a lot of time and energy making sure their live recordings sound as good as possible and these bootlegs just don't live up to that high standard," Rush's manager Ray Daniels said in a statement.
Canadian singer/songwriter Jann Arden, another bootleg victim, added: "When an artist chooses to make their own DVD, they have creative control and quality control. With the audience as a willing participant, together they determine the live show experience. The illegal recording and distribution of live concerts is theft on many levels. Something special was taken from me and my audience."
Record and CD shows are common throughout Ontario. Catering to collectors, the shows specialize in used records and memorabilia. Most vendors are legitimate.
There were 48 vendors at the June 13 show, but plainclothes RCMP found only four selling bootlegs. One was caught burning a bootleg DVD for sale to a plainclothes Mountie. Two others voluntarily handed over their products to the RCMP after being warned. One other grabbed his computer and fled. RCMP Corporal Michele Paradis said their investigation is continuing.
In England, a London bootlegger was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail yesterday for creating counterfeit CDs of artists like Oasis, the Beatles, Eminem and Madonna. The court was told Mark Purseglove, 33, pocketed £15 million (about $36 million Cdn.) between 1991 and 2002, using illicit recordings made by sound engineers and concert-goers.
Purseglove sold them at music festivals, shops and online with the help of a worldwide business contacts network, court heard.
Outside court, David Martin of the British Phonographic Industry's anti-piracy unit said: "We have been after him for 13 years and he has been a thorn in our side throughout that time."
The problem of bootlegs has increased as recording equipment has become smaller, higher in quality and relatively inexpensive. Digital recorders, available for a few hundred dollars, now fit into the palm of a hand and can be hooked up to stereo microphones small enough to be clipped on to a pair of sunglasses.
Dave Kelly, events manager at Copps Coliseum, says security staff are always on the lookout for illegal recording equipment. At some concerts patrons are searched at the entrance. Cameras are confiscated and returned at the end of the show, Kelly said.
Victor Joseph Patrick Avalis, 43, of Hamilton, has been charged with one count of illegally producing a product for sale without a copyright and four counts of selling illegally produced products without a copyright. Avalis next appears in court July 22.