Encyclopedia > Bootleg

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As a noun, bootleg means the top part of a boot, the part that is around the leg instead of the foot. From the practice of hiding small items in a boot to smuggle them past the authorities, the word became a verb, meaning "to smuggle," and an adjective, describing something that has been smuggled (or, more rarely, stolen). Anything that is regulated can be bootlegged, so the term now often refers to such items as audio or video recordings not released by whoever holds the rights to them (also known as "pirated" copies), to cigarettes on which the required taxes have not been paid (also known as "black market" cigarettes), and to jeans or other clothing with phony (or "counterfeit") manufacturers' labels on them.

The traditional meaning of "bootlegging," going back to Prohibition in the U.S., is selling liquor on which the federal taxes have not been paid. The term is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to making untaxed alcoholic products, but, properly speaking, that is "moonshining," not bootlegging (although a bootlegger may be working with a moonshiner, selling or delivering the liquor for that manufacturer). Most bootleg liquor is not "home-made" by a moonshiner but, instead, bottled by professional distillers: During Prohibition, much of the bootleg whiskey in the U.S. was brought in from Canada and much of the bootleg rum from Mexico or Cuba, but today most bootleg alcohol in the U.S. is made domestically but sold "under the table" or "off the back of a truck" without the necessary permits and taxes.

Many bootleg albums have since been released officially by the copyright holder; for instance in 2002 Dave Matthews Band released Busted Stuff in response to the success of the "Lillywhite Sessions" album which they had not intended to release; The Beatles' release of their Anthology albums effectively killed the demand for many Beatles bootlegs previously available; and Bob Dylan has released an entire bootleg series, which as of 2003 had five volumes.

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