Many know of how widespread internet piracy is, but few understand the complex distribution networks that facilitate this growing trend. Despite efforts by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), and other trade groups to reign in piracy, it continues to grow like an inextinguishable conflagration. Most users who illegally download music, movies, applications, games, and other digital media do so using P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing networks such as Bittorrent and Limewire. Although unsophisticated, these file sharers make up the vast majority of online piracy. But, where exactly does this content all come from? Does one of these file sharers go out and purchase the latest album or movie?
The majority of the copyrighted material online originates from one of several different release groups, in a complex world that has been branded “the scene” or the “warez scene” by its participants. It is within this world that pirates compete for prestige, hidden away from traditional file sharers and those not “elite” enough to partake. Diverse individuals band together, placing a priority on anonymity and quality. Their sole goal is to release the highest quality music, movies, or applications before anyone else. These groups are in no way compensated for their illustrious deeds. In fact, many pirates admit they do it for fun.
Release groups typically include a supplier (one who gets the latest warez), couriers (individuals who distribute the releases), encoders (these individuals convert the source file into a compressed xvid file for movies or lame mp3 files for music), Packagers / NFO makers (Individuals who prepare the release by compressing it using winrar and write the NFO files that detail the release).
Once a group has obtained a release, encoded it, and prepared it for distribution it is the job of the couriers and affiliates to start it on its journey. The group’s couriers will upload the release to their affiliate site. An affiliate site is a private ftp that release groups, couriers, and other pirates use to distribute their wares. Sites are typically located at hosting companies or on extremely fast internet connections making the process of distribution extremely rapid.
The warez scene is built on the idea of prestige and competition. Once a release has been uploaded to the group’s affiliate site or “Pre’d” as it’s known in the warez world, it is the job of thousands of couriers around the world to disseminate this release. Couriers are playing for credits. These credits allow them to leech or download other warez files from the top sites (private ftps) to which they have access. It is the job of the courier to transfer the release from one site to another as quickly as possible. Whoever transfers the release first, receives the credits and the prestige. Within a matter of minutes, a release can spread to hundreds of top sites. From here, couriers, siteops, and others who have access begin to send the releases to other ftp sites.
Eventually, releases make their way onto newsgroups (usenet), peer to peer file sharing networks, and torrents. This process can take up to a couple days depending on the medium and demand for the release. Eventually, the warez released by these elusive groups makes its way into the annals of the internet. While the industry trade groups have made successful raids on some of these piracy groups, it seems to be a game of a whack-a-mole. As soon as one group is caught, another stands ready to take its place. Piracy has become ubiquitous online, but the journey the wares takes has long been shrouded in mystery.
There are numerous virtual data rooms that take care of the piracy menace in a dignified manner and hope to eradicate it one day.