Arrrr matey, let’s talk pirates. Not Jack Sparrow; the pirates I’m talking about here are unauthorized copies of albums. First though, let’s clarify the difference between a pirate and a bootleg. A bootleg is a recording of material not commercially available to the public, such as live or demo versions. The first bootleg record was created in 1961 and is now legendary; a collection of 1961 Bob Dylan recordings called The Great White Wonder (because the sleeve was plain white). While the bootlegging practice caters to the demands of music fans by making rare and live recordings available, it is illegal.
A pirate is a counterfeit version (copy) of an existing commercial album, and is usually a poor-quality second-generation copy. Pirates are usually quite easy to spot, as the album artwork and label will vary in some way from the originals, the jacket will be made of inferior-quality materials (usually just paper), and the artist’s official record label name and logo will be missing from the product. Oftentimes, the artist’s name and/or song titles will be misspelled too. Pirates have no value and are illegal to sell, as the artist gets no royalties from the sale; it’s the same as if you burned a copy of your favorite CD and then tried to sell it.
Most Led Zeppelin pirates are from Southeast Asian countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Korea, but there are some from Russia, Latvia, Iran, and a few other countries. Pirates are commonly marketed as being “import” or “unauthorized” pressings by ignorant dealers who don’t actually know they are pirates; they see the different jacket and Asian text and incorrectly assume they are “rare” Japanese (or some other) issues. And then there are some dealers who know exactly what they are selling, but are counting on the fact that the buyer doesn’t. Don’t be one of those buyers; all legitimate Led Zeppelin releases will have the Atlantic Records or Swan Song Records logo on the jacket and label. Below are photos of some common Zeppelin pirates: