I searched for Van the Man after reading Marcus' description in Stranded, and eventually found it somewhere for a reasonable amount in a Goldmine listing. (Jeez, those were the days! Imagine the eyestrain now of old-fart boomers trying to find their latest obsessions in Goldmine ads.) Just like the illustrious rock-crit had said, Van the Man was a masterpiece, and it became one of my favorite Van Morrison albums.
Twenty-five years later, though, I had all the material on the album on grey-area CDs (The Inner Mystic, No Stone Unturned, The Genuine Philosophers Stone, among them). The Van the Man bootleg was one of my most cherished artifacts, but like a dog whose time had come, Van the Man's days were numbered. So I put the bootleg album up for sale on my EBay store without much thought to it.
But that was before I had ever heard of the dreaded Web Sheriff.
Within a few weeks, I received a cease and desist email telling me that, not only did I have to take down the listing, but I also had to mail them, this international protector of artists' copyrights, immediately, my copy of Van the Man! I knew enough not to dash off an angry and frothing email, but I did suggest that, since I had taken down the EBay listing, there was no reason to send them my album. Nothing doing, said the Web Sheriff--ownership of bootleg material, like possession of marijuana, was a criminal offense, and if I continued to hold on to Van the Man I would be arrested. (I wasn't sure how they would arrest me since they were based in England, but I was a small businessman and certainly didn't need the bad reputation.)
So, dejectedly, I packaged up my precious copy of Van the Man (which I had priced so high on EBay so that no one would ever buy it knowing full well I would keep the thing til death do us part) and mailed the album overseas to the Web Sheriff. Promptly I dashed off an email to the watchdogs, thanking them for protecting the rights of such poverty-stricken and struggling artists like Van Morrison. I assured them again that I was not a bootlegger, and that this was indeed the first bootleg album of illegal material I had ever tried to sell. The Web Sheriff wrote back with equal kindness and graciously assured me that my album would be well taken care of (which meant they would either smash it to smithereens or they were going to run off their on masters from the LP to create a CD version of Van the Man on The Web Sheriff label).
Since then, I have learned a great deal about the Web Sheriff, and I can assure you folks that they do indeed mean business. They are not a cheerful lot.
Cruise the Internet and you will find countless bloggers who complain about how they've had to take down MP3's and other content because it infringed on the rights of artists represented by the Web Sheriff (links embedded in this blog). And I understand completely what the Web Sheriff is doing. I mean, it's a business--some guy found a niche, approached notoriously hotheaded artists such as Van Morrison, and starting Googling fans, bloggers, and file-sharing kids to catch them in the act.
But the question is this: Is this Internet watchdog really about protecting the artists' rights or is it just a new business model for legal eagles? Ultimately NO ONE has the power and energy to police the entire Internet.
I don't have any animosity towards the Web Sheriff nor do I hold a grudge. Like the cop on the beat who gives you a ticket for parking at an expired meter, the Web Sheriff was just doing its job. I just want my album back.