19 October 1976: The Sound Recording Amendment to U.S. copyright law for the first time extends copyright protection to sound recordings. Unfortunately, it combines both counterfeit and ‘pirate’ recordings in the same category as “misappropriated” recordings, “making bootlegs the legal equivalent of any pirate album containing commercially released material in alternative packaging” (Heylin, BOOTLEG, p. 125). In addition, for the first time the owner of any exclusive right (for example, mechanical reproduction) can now claim action for infringement. This right previously lay with the copyright owner of a work exclusively. As a result, record companies could now instigate legal proceedings without the cooperation of the artist.
“Vicki Vinyl was busted, a guy who was distributing Wizardo Records was busted, a number of stores were busted, my friend back east was busted – he was sending me the King Kong and Contraband Records in trade for my records. There were a whole bunch of people busted in December 1976.” [Lou Cohan in Heylin, BOOTLEG, p. 125]
The FBI, however had a lot to learn and were operating on some false beliefs, for example that there was a ‘Mr. Big’ somewhere behind this, controlling it all and in return for talking deals were offered.
“Wizardo, now working in tandem with Vicki Vinyl, managed to wriggle out of a first rap with a little kiss’n’tell. He promptly started up again, assigning new releases to the 500 series, only to be hit a second time. This time operations were forcibly put on hold by court action. Cohan, who was also busted at the end of 1976, was lucky that the FBI did not manage to gather all the available evidence.” (Heylin, BOOTLEG, p. 126)
As Lou Cohen was a volume dealer with an impressive catalog with product sourced from other bootleggers the FBI thought that this was their “Mr. Big”: “As for my own personal bootlegs, the most I ever pressed was 4,000 of any one title, the average was around 2,500 … [but] I would trade my bootlegs with other bootleggers, including a guy on the East Coast [in Darby, PA], so that by the time the FBI busted me in December of 1976 … I carried hundreds of titles, but only about twelve to ffteen of my own. I only made, I think twenty-two bootlegs. Hot Wacks says I made about ten, because I changed label titles, I changed what was scratched in the vinyl, to try and confuse the FBI.” [Lou Cohan in Heylin, BOOTLEG, p. 127]
While Wizardo’s second bust forced him to appear in court and close up shop for good, Cohan paid $1,000 to a lawyer, who made the whole issue disappear. Cohan retired his label name Hoffman Avenue Records and started up again using a pressing plant not listed as such in the yellow pages and continued until the end of 1977.
If anyone deserved the title “Mr. Big”, it was certainly Ken but Ken was never caught. Heylin’s book has ‘Eric Bristow’ recount an anecdote when the California State Police almost busted Ken in Westminster in Orange County, CA when a neighbor called the cops on him claiming Ken dealt in stolen property. Incredibly, Ken managed the cops to only leave with some samples and his lawyer basically blackmailed the police into dropping the case for not arresting Ken on the spot! To the best of my knowledge, a couple of the raided samples are the only items ever to come up for public auction:
From the auction description:
“Dylan Police Evidence
Police Evidence Sticker on Back Sleeve
Spine Also has 3 White Labels on It with Bob Dylans Name, LP Name & Cat #
TMOQ Record was A Legendary Bootleg Label Based In Westminster California back in the 70’s
Then when One day the Westminster Police Dept. Shut them down and this is one of the records that
was seized and held as evidence with the label from the police stamped and labeled.
If you check Popsike.com Under “TMOQ Evidence Room” you will also find
some Labels from this same seize and that has the same label from the Westminster
Police with Stamp & Lot #. Which Sold for $577”