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A guide by rainbowjam

With the sheer amount of CDs for sale on eBay there are always bound to be a fair few which are not what the inexperienced buyer is expecting. So how can you tell and what do the different terms for dodgy CDs actually mean? There's quite a difference between a bootleg and a pirate but many people do seem to confuse the two terms. 

I myself don't sell illegal CDs of any description but I do have nearly 30 years experience of selling music on all formats. I always have hundreds of CDs listed in my eBay shop which are all 100% legitimate and start from just £1.99 Buy-It-Now. So if you want a safe and easy purchase, visit my shop at Well, that's the plug over; now back to the matter in hand.


These are probably the worst kind of dodgy CD as they are being passed off as official, often current, albums. They are illegal, generally poor quality, CDs which are an attempt at an exact copy of a legitimate CD. Virtually any current chart album will have been pirated in vast quantities; pirate copies are often sold at larger well-established car boot sales and also by dodgy eBay sellers. They are difficult to spot on an eBay listing as the seller will generally be pretending they are the real thing, so someone who is selling pirate CDs can only really be spotted once the negatives start to roll in. So, always check feedback before you buy.

Once you're holding the pirate CD in your hand, they're easy to spot (although, if you've bought it on eBay, it's a bit late by then). A pirate will look like the real thing at first glance but, on closer inspection of the artwork, it's easy to spot the poor quality of the printing and often a slight difference in shades of colour and also the lack of matrix numbers around the inside rim. Also the quality and cut of the paper used for the inserts will usually be noticeably sub-standard. The disc itself will have poor quality, strangely printed or missing details on the label side and will usually be a CD-R rather than a "proper" CD. CD-Rs are usually blue or green on the playing side although some are now silver so the playing side won't always be a slightly strange colour. If it is though, then you know you've got a CD-R and if it's been sold as a standard issue (ie: not a promo) then you've been had.

There are a couple of exceptions to the CD-R rule:

  • the self-financed CD where an artist records and releases their own CD on their own private label. This is often the case with some folk artists, for example, who issue their own albums to sell at gigs round the folk clubs. In this case, the albums are often all made on CD-R as it's cheaper and easier when you're financing your own recording but it's NEVER the case with any well-known artist who has a major-label recording contract;

  • official promo CDs (see section below);

  • audio books issued in small quantities or manufactured on demand by a couple of the major companies, notably Audiogo (and BBC titles issued by Audiogo - for a few years Audiogo issued all BBC titles but they have now ceased trading). These titles are usually multi-CD sets of unabridged books and are packaged in larger plastic cases (not CD jewel cases) with ring-binder style clips in the centre and the discs in cloth / plastic inserts. They come will full artwork and printing on the discs and are 100% official releases with proper barcodes and ISBNs. There is no difference in sound quality between these CD-R issues and standard CD releases.


This is just another term for pirate CDs: an illegal sub-standard CD-R copy of an officially released album. Sometimes people will openly offer a copied (pirated) CD for sale and state that it is legal to buy as a back-up if you already own a legitimate version, thus placing the onus on you to remain within the law (or not). Whatever they tell you and regardless of whether you and / or they own legitimate issues of the CD in question, it's illegal for them to sell it and for you to buy it. It's just a common misinterpretation of the law that sellers of dodgy goods try to use to their advantage.  Copied CDs sold as back-ups will usually be sold in a plastic wallet without artwork or jewel case and will be CD-Rs of the same sort of standard as a pirate being passed off as legitimate.


These are unofficial (ie: illegal) CDs which contain recordings which are not, and have never been, officially available for sale. They often contain live recordings, either a complete concert or occasionally a selection of live tracks from a mixture of different venues.  If not live tracks then they feature recordings which have never been released; either demo or alternate versions of well-known tracks or else tracks which, for whatever reason, have never been released at all. There is a large collectors' market for bootlegs as they contain material which has never been legally released so can be very attractive to serious collectors of a certain artist.

A lot of buyers are happy to buy bootlegs as there is no legal way of obtaining the material on them so opinion is divided in the music world as to whether they do any harm. The argument about lost royalties will rage for ever; some say royalties are lost by bootleg sales while others say no royalties are lost as people who buy bootlegs will have already bought all that is legally available by their favourite artist and are only buying bootlegs in addition to (not instead of) legitimate releases. However, it's still illegal and in breach of eBay rules so eBay are constantly removing any listings which are reported to them that offer bootlegs for sale.

Some artists themselves openly support the sale of bootlegs of their own material while others (such as Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin) will actively try to prevent their sale. Ebay has it's own VeRO (Verified Rights Owner) programme which artists and their record companies can join - you can view a list of some VeRO members in the Music category and check out their individual policies. (Unfortunately, there's the odd "artist" who even objects to legally released vinyl compilations of early recordings and misuses the VeRO programme, so what was introduced as a way for artists/brands to protect their copyright can turn into a stick to beat even the most law-abiding sellers with.) There will always be bootlegs on eBay though as there are so many offered for sale that they can never all be removed at any given time. So, how to spot them (whether you want to buy them or avoid them)? The seller is hardly going to spread the word "bootleg" liberally through their title and description.

  • They are more likely to be described as "unofficial", "rare live import" or something similar;

  • Sometimes the picture will just be a photo of the artist in question rather than a picture of the CD;

  • If a record label is mentioned (it generally won't be), it won't be the one the artist is signed to, or a legitimate reissue or budget label;

  • The title won't be the same as any you'll find in the racks of your local CD shop (although it may well be a clever variation of a legitimate title) and the recordings will not be available on any legal releases;

  • The item description is likely to be vague and generally lacking in detail but mentions the sound quality of the recording.

If you're at all unsure of what you may be bidding on then ask the seller for clarification. If you don't receive a clear reply regarding the legality of the CD and its contents then you've got your answer! Remember, there are an awful lot of CDs containing rare and previously unissued material (both studio and live tracks) on legitimate, legal reissue labels so you may find your suspicions are unfounded. If this is the case, the seller will generally be more than happy to give you a straight answer.

Pirating The Bootlegs:

When the manufacture of bootlegs first switched from vinyl and tape to CD, the equipment to manufacture them was expensive and they were all issued on "proper" CDs (ie: silver in colour and not CD-Rs). As time has passed, technology has moved on and prices have dropped meaning that most people can now burn their own CDs in their own home. This means that the original (and current) mass-produced bootlegs are now themselves being pirated on CD-R by people with their own cottage industries in their living rooms (or home offices). This all means that many bootlegs being offered for sale now are likely to be home-made and as variable in quality as any pirate. As with pirate CDs, there's no way of knowing until it's in your hand. Many sellers dealing in "proper" bootlegs now often describe them as "factory pressed" or "silver" to distinguish them from pirated bootlegs!

A Quick Word On Promos:

When making promotional copies of CDs (both singles and albums), record companies do use CD-Rs at some stages of the manufacturing process. This means that you can come across official record company-owned promo CDs which are on CD-Rs rather than standard CDs. Record companies have their own rules (as opposed to UK laws) governing the re-sale of promos and VeRO members often use these rules to get ebay to remove listings of promos as well - another contentious and grey area.

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my guide - hope it's been of some interest; if so then please register a yes vote and take a look at my other guides. Don't forget to visit my ebay shop for hundreds of 100% official Buy-It-Now CDs from just £1.99. I offer speedy delivery and reasonable postage rates and have nearly twenty years trading experience; check out my feedback before you buy.

All the best, rainbowjam

Guide created 2006, updated October 2014, and again in March 2016 to correct (as much as possible) all the formatting errors created by ebay's extremely broken editing software. Apologies if it still looks a mess; it displayed perfectly for many years until ebay decided to make "improvements" to their Guides editing software! All they achieved was drastically limiting its functionality.

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