WEST COAST SWINGBootlegging Boogie Part II


by Michael A. Harvey

Two things must be said immediately about the last "Bootlegging Boogie" article. Firstly, the ads running in this publication for Swingin’ The Blues, a series of fabulous West Coast Swing CD’s, are legitimate! Please support Wanna Dance Productions because they create a quality product. Secondly, what you do with the bootlegged product now that you’ve purchased it is your business. If you purchased them in good faith, and getting a refund seems unlikely, enjoy them. You’ve done nothing wrong. Some people I know have been so angered that they’ve trashed them, embarrassed to be seen with them. Make your own choice.

I received so many unsolicited phone calls from all parts of the country in favor of the last "Bootlegging Boogie" article I was amazed. It was a difficult story, one I agonized over for weeks. It went through more re-writings than any story I’ve ever written. And I ran it past several people whose opinion I value. The story put me in a state of depression for a long while. Only the support of those who have taken the time to pat me on the back has been what sustained and re-vitalized me. The story had to be told for the health of our dance community.

We exercised tremendous restraint in the last article and will do so in this article. There are other lawsuits currently pending against people trading in illegal tapes and CD’s around the country. Who they are is not the point. Bootlegging has to stop by our own choice because more people will get busted. For those continuing to bootleg, and for the education of the dance community, we’d like to share more of what we’ve learned about penalties.

When people behave in a flagrant manner, they draw attention to themselves. Repete Records told WCSA, "We are being very aggressive in pursuing our case because, although we’ve known about abuses in the Swing dance community in the past, we’ve never seen anyone this outrageous. And so we have been forced to make an example for the Swing dance community to see so that they realize this behavior is illegal, unethical, and not in their best interests."

It’s amazing to us at WCSA that there are still some people selling illegal CD’s to a trusting public. Putting "For Promotional Use Only" on the cover will not save a bootlegger from severe penalties. When a violator of the law gets caught they are given a chance from the various companies to "rectify the situation" in whatever fashion the wronged party deems acceptable. If the violator does not comply then the case gets passed on to the State Attorney’s Office who will bring criminal charges.

It’s usually in the interests of the accused to deal with the complainants before it goes to the State Attorney’s Office because if found guilty it could result in very large fines and jail time. WCSA was informed that there are six or eight companies involved in pursuing the vendor mentioned in our last article in addition to RIWA, which is an investigating arm of the top record companies, and the Harry Fox Agency, a huge licensing company.

Unfortunately for the bootlegger the penalties don’t stop there because when all these companies have been satisfied, either out of court or in court, the Songwriters themselves also have the right to sue for damages. WCSA was informed that at least one Songwriter has obtained Counsel in order to take that action.

It is true that now that all the record companies are "on to" the Swing world everything will be more difficult. People will have to get licenses, more money will have to be paid for videos, etc., etc. But if we want West Coast Swing to be accepted by mainstream America, if we want it to grow so that more people enjoy what we love so much, we have to do the little things that give us credibility. And licensure is fast, quick, and easy.

My surface investigations inform me that ASCAP and BMI, who are to be paid for every song played at conventions, will issue a license to a Promoter under the classification of "Dance Studio," with the convention being considered a "recital." This license would cost $359 and would cover classes, workshops, dances, and conventions for an entire year. The Promoter or Dance Club who owns the license covers every DJ they employ.

A Promoter could alternatively cover himself by using only those DJ’s who possess their own licenses if the Promoter did not want to obtain one himself. But they would have to use one of those DJ’s every time an Instructor wanted to play a song in a workshop!

What’s the penalty? ASCAP and BMI can shut a convention down almost instantly with an "injunction." This would inconvenience everyone and be a financial disaster for promoters and consumers alike. Is it really worth the $359? Hardly. Will the licensing agencies do it? Maybe yes, and maybe no. Who wants to take that chance? One major convention this year came within an eyelash of being shut down. If it weren’t for the kind heart of a particular record company, it would have been.

ASCAP and BMI are not out to hurt anyone and they prefer that people voluntarily obtain licenses so that the artists and the companies that promote those artists are properly compensated. ASCAP and BMI may look at West Coast Swing conventions and see a community-wide ignorance of proper licensure and look to make an example of one convention. But even if this doesn’t happen, and of course we hope it doesn’t, it’s also easy to see into the future to a time when the existence of an unlicensed event will be very "vulnerable" in relation to a competing licensed event.

But I can also see a future in our community where this will become a non-issue: where all conventions have proper licenses to play music; where all vendors are selling legal products; where all videos have proper releases. Of course it should be that way. Would we want it any other way?

And the story, unfortunately, goes on. Our investigations have uncovered the fact that every "Event Video" that’s ever been sold is illegal! Each song that’s recorded on video tape needs to be properly released! How that’s done and how expensive it is remains for Event Directors and Video Producers to discover.

Many Instructors jump through hoops to gain releases for music they use on their Instructional Tapes. I know for a fact that Mario Robau and Robert Cordoba had Instructional Tape release dates pushed back because of music licensing snafus. If these legitimate entrepreneurs jump through hoops, why do others seem entitled to illegitimacy?

There must be some "classification" that will make it financially feasible to release "Event Tapes" that are above board. Certainly, if we expect to see West Coast Swing televised we can’t be looking to avoid "paying the piper." We have to legitimize for our own sake. We have to start playing by the rules. If not, the universe will hold us down.

In the last article we used the example of how the Swing world would be "up in arms" if someone produced a video compilation of the best moves ever produced on Instructional Tapes because the Pros who we all love would be "ripped off" of fees entitled to them. Little did I now that a similar tape already exists. I was informed by one competitor that when they sign releases so that "Event Tapes" can be sold, no one is granting permission for those performances to be reproduced in different video releases forever and ever. There are now "Best Of" videos being sold with additional "volumes" being created. Are we "up in arms?"

Encouragingly, many in the Swing world are cleaning up their act. Several Instructors and Event Promoters see the "handwriting on the wall" and are taking the actions they know they need to take in regards to their tapes and events. Yes, it’s a hassle. Cleaning out the basement is a hassle too, but when it’s done you feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. What used to be of value and part of everyday life, now sits on the trash heap, no longer wanted or functional. Now you are clean, light, and ready for action, improved action. And so are we!