Is It Legal … To Record A Bootleg At A Concert?

By Rachael Mason, THELAW.TV

Wouldn’t it be nice to remember the concert you attended forever by recording it? You could easily record every song or even create a concert video with your smartphone. But, making a recording isn’t always legal.

Concerts are subject not only to copyright laws that govern the music, lyrics, and performance, but also to trademarks owned by the band and contractual obligations between the band, the ticket seller, the venue, and more.

Some venues prohibit all types of recording and, if you’re caught, a security guard might make you leave the show or even delete your data, according to a Sony blog about concert recording.

Bands also have a say in allowing fans to record their shows. One of the first bands to allow fans to tape their shows and share the recordings was The Grateful Dead. It’s estimated that of the band’s approximately 2,350 concerts, around 2,200 of them were taped. Many of those recordings can be heard online at

Today, some of the bands that allow concert recordings include Maroon 5, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and the Black Crowes. These bands often allow the recording because they view it as a form of viral marketing that will lead to stronger concert ticket sales.

Bands that allow taping often outline the rules that should be followed when recording a show.

As an example, here’s the bootlegging policy of Dave Matthews Band:

“Dave Matthews Band allows audiotaping at almost every live performance. We feel that each show is unique and want to offer our fans the opportunity to recreate the live experience through the audio reproduction of our shows. All recordings must be used for personal use or trading only. Selling or commercializing any recording is illegal and will jeopardize taping privileges for everyone.”

If you have questions about whether a band allows taping or not, you can often reach out to them via their web or social media sites for more information. And if recording is not allowed, your ticket will often include language such as “no cameras or recording devices.”

What are the consequences of sharing recordings online?

While some bands allow bootlegging, they differ on what you can do with those recordings. Some bands allow you to post them online on sites like YouTube. Others want you to keep those recordings for your own use only.

“The copyright holder has wide discretion regarding how their work can be used,” says attorney Brian Albert of legal information website THELAW.TV. “That includes deciding whether people can record their concerts and what people can do with those recordings.”

Fans who record shows without the band’s permission are taking an even bigger risk. Posting copyrighted materials online, even if only to personal social media accounts, is a violation of U.S. copyright law. Though prosecution of individual fans is unlikely, it is a possibility.

What happens to unauthorized concert recordings posted online?

If a copyright violation is alleged, the video or sound recordings are generally removed from the site where they are posted. For example, if Prince’s legal representatives see a video on YouTube from one of his concerts, they might ask YouTube to take it down immediately, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In place of the video, users often see a message that says the content has been taken down due to copyright violations.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act includes protections for service providers from being held liable for the actions of third parties. That means that while you might get in trouble for posting copyrighted material on YouTube, YouTube won’t get in any trouble if they take down the video as soon as the artist or label informs them that the video is copyrighted.


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