I still remember the first bootleg I ever saw – in 1989, I was on an Army base in Germany, and our neighbor brought home a VHS copy of Batman that one of his soldiers bought on the streets of NYC. Someone sat in a theater with a 1980s video camera and recorded the movie. It was an awful copy, but, being overseas in the 80s, there was no other way we could see a new release. Military theaters were further behind than dollar theaters, and the Internet didn’t exist, so seeing a Batman movie in our living room was like having a window into heaven.
Over the next 25 years, piracy evolved leaps and bounds, and I evolved right alongside it. The turn of the century was a Renaissance of piracy, as widespread adoption of the Internet made it almost too easy to find any software, movies, or music you could ever want. These days, the shift to cloud computing is making bootlegging more difficult, but the basic principles never change. Here’s what you need to know to navigate those murky pirate-infested waters.
Anonymous – In order to begin pirating, you need to be as anonymous as possible online. Learn more about how to stay safe online here.
Codec – A codec is necessary to play a video format. Download and use VLC Player (it’s free) – I couldn’t play a file with them 3 times in over a decade. If VLC doesn’t have the codec, it’s likely proprietary.
Crack – Software comes with a serial number to unlock it and prove you bought it. A crack is a counterfeit (or stolen/shared) code that can unlock the software.
Deep Web – The deep web is a layer of the internet that’s not accessible through traditional search engines. Rather than depending on web addresses, the Deep Web is accessible through IP addresses and other alternative means. The Deep Web is where you’ll find the evolution of warez.
DRM – Digital Rights Management is anti-piracy security. As piracy evolves, DRM is normally a couple steps behind. These days, the most powerful DRM method involves cloud computing. If you’re going to pirate modern software, it’s vital that you disconnect from the internet prior to installation and program your firewall to block internet connectivity to the program afterward.
Keygen – Short for key generator, a keygen is a program designed to create serial numbers for a variety of software versions. Before running a keygen, ensure your computer is muted – they’re often programmed with intrusively loud music.
Screener – A screener is a DVD-quality copy of a theatrical release, often accompanied by a digital watermark. Screeners are much better quality than Telesync, but are only available to the production staff and critics at major media outlets. Often a screener will come out days to even weeks prior to the theatrical release, allowing critics to have reviews out by opening night and building buzz for the film.
Screeners are most widely available at the end of the year, as award nominations are announced for the SAG and Golden Globe awards.
Proxy – Some sites can’t be accessed from the U.S. Other sites are ONLY available in the U.S. In order to get around such restrictions, you need a proxy server, which routes your web traffic through another node. This makes it appear as though you’re at the geographic location of the proxy, rather than your physical location.
Telesync – A telesync movie is filmed in the theater using a camcorder. This is the lowest quality video and audio, but it’s often the only version available for the first three months after a film’s theatrical release. During this time, various audio and video files are mixed and matched to make the best possible quality and eliminate any syncing issues.
A telesync movie can be identified by TS, CAM, or Telesync in the file name.
Torrent – Torrents are the modern way of pirating, allowing website owners a thin layer of legal protection. Rather than direct downloading of warez, you simply download the torrent. Most torrent sites don’t even directly host the torrents. In the torrent network, the files are hosted on individual hard drives, and you download pieces from each person, never directly downloading a full file from anyone.
Warez – Warez is a general term for pirated software. Before the Gnutella and TOR file-sharing protocols were used, warez sites and forums were the best places to obtain pirated software. Although torrents and streaming are the most efficient methods of software piracy, warez is still used, and the term should be remembered the next time your favorite torrent tracker goes down.
Brian Penny (aka Versability) is a former business analyst at Countrywide’s mortgage and insurance tracking services through the transition to Bank of America. In 2011, Penny turned whistleblower and freelance writer, exposing criminal fraud by BofA subsidiary Balboa Insurance. Brian is a frequent contributor to Huffington Post, Main Street, Lifehack, Hardcore Droid, Cannabis Now, and various other media organizations throughout the web.