“In vain we call old notions fudge,

And bend our conscience to our dealing;

The Ten Commandments will not budge,

And stealing will continue stealing.”

–James Russell Lowell, American poet and editor; written as the motto of the American Copyright League in 1885

The battle of artists to protect their work was being fought long before Lowell’s time. Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe fame decried “Pyrates” for reprinting his work without permission in the early 1700s, and London’s Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers had been enforcing copyright regulations—between seizing books deemed “offensive” on behalf of the Church—for more than a century prior.

Although Lowell lived long enough to witness in 1891 the first act of U.S. Congress to protect and honor international copyrights, he also acknowledged in the above lines that he didn’t expect the thievery to end, regardless of its place in the Decalogue. Today, the problem plagues artistic avenues Lowell couldn’t have imagined.

But if the act of copyright infringement is nothing to scoff at, sometimes the result is. As evidenced by the booty on display at Flickr’s The Crappy Bootleg DVD Covers Pool, the plunder can be worth the piracy.

The globe-spanning collection of unintentional comedy features inexplicable cover artwork (Arnold Schwarzenegger alongside Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in an ambiguous episode of the Star Wars saga; Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock in something called Pepe Likes Tacos; a hodgepodge of characters from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies surrounding the Pirates of the Caribbean logo in…um, I’m not sure) in addition to mismatched film descriptions, incorrect credits, questionable cover blurbs and, sometimes, all of the above (the unfortunate packaging for Flight 93—really United 93—contains the credits for The Crow, the special features listing for View From the Top and this rave from Richard Roeper: “A lot of fun!”).

And then there’s the text.

Among the taglines that apparently didn’t make the domestic market cut…

  • The Matrix Reloaded: “The white men wanted a stud to breed slaves.”
  • Underworld: “The war returns at continue.”
  • Kill Bill (it’s unclear which volume): “Here comes the brine.”

The film summaries range from the indecipherable (“The virtuous spaceworries together the senate Adds the Kwangju democratic movement friend, thereupon leavespermits the professional female entertainer to go to the Seoul,” describes the back cover of An Old Garden) to the close-but-no-cigar (“Blade Runner is familiar to cuntless fans”).

Despite the illegality of the bootleg market, one must also admire pirate designers’ devotion to truth in advertising (something many of our legit corporations don’t even bother to practice). Bold copy on the cover for the Hillary Duff vehicle The Perfect Man touts: “It is to be endured rather than enjoyed” and “…takes its idiotic plot and uses it as the excuse for scenes of awesome stupidity.”

The cover of Walt Disney Studios’ less-than-glowingly-received animated film Brother Bear boasts, “‘It’s not that the movie’s bad. It’s just innocuous.’—Desson Thomson, Washington Post”, while the Meryl Streep/Uma Thurman bomb Prime sells itself with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Eleanor Ringel Gillespie gushing, “…you feel yourself trying too hard to make the film work.”

While stealing will assuredly continue stealing, the images at The Crappy Bootleg DVD Covers Pool are almost enough to make a person wonder if the lion’s share of the market for pirated DVDs exists for cheap versions of the movies themselves or for cultural souvenirs so gloriously bizarre they must be purchased and shared.