For many years movies have been released onto the Internet, trickling down the so-called ‘piracy pyramid’ from elitist and private sites. Now a new breed of release groups are starting to make waves, bringing media directly to the masses. Today we take a closer look at this scene and speak to groups on the frontline to see what makes them tick.
In our earlier article, BitTorrent Releasers Slice The Top Off Movie Piracy Pyramid, we took a first look at the growing phenomenon of blockbuster movies appearing on the Internet directly via BitTorrent. Traditionally, most movies have trickled down from ‘The Scene’, a network of highly secure servers and individuals with one critical flaw – everything they share privately leaks out to the wider Internet.
However, release groups inhabiting P2P networks such as BitTorrent are now sometimes managing to beat the old-schoolers to the punch, providing movies quicker and increasingly in better quality. So how are they pulling this off?
KoOlWaReZ, the admin of P2PElite, a new site currently under development with the aim of providing a home, profile and a central location for P2P release groups so they can interact with the public, says that while the Scene do a good job on quality and in many previous cases still get material first, times are changing.
“I’d say about two years ago, Scene had a nice grasp on getting things first, but lately anyone who has followed both Scene/P2P equally will know that P2P groups these days have more contacts,” he told us.
By default the super-secret nature of the Scene renders them hard to find. P2P groups, on the other hand, are a lot more accessible, which means that those who have access to movies can get them to these potential distributors a lot more easily. While in the past only the Scene could take credit for putting a first run movie onto the Internet first, increasingly those bragging rights are taken by P2P groups. So what motivates these individuals to do what they do?
Two groups, which asked to remain anonymous, were in agreement with the other groups in citing the overwhelming urge to share and the feelings of achievement associated with seeing tens of thousands of peers on torrents created by them. Others were prepared to speak on the record.
“My main reason aside from any other would be because of my affiliation with a certain community which me and other friends manage and run,” prolific releaser Noir told us.
However, altruism aside, there is another clear attraction for groups to release on P2P – an absolute lack of bureaucracy. Through years of tradition building, some of it well intentioned, some of it verging on the ridiculous, the Scene has accumulated a mind-boggling array of rules and regulations to which all members and releases must adhere. P2P releasers, on the other hand, are free to do whatever they like.
“[We release on P2P] because there are no specific rules to encode to,” release group PrisM told us. “We can encode to a better quality within our own standards, and try and make the best quality the source permits. We can also use all sources available.”
KoOlWaReZ also agreed that some of the grounds used in the Scene for a ‘nuking’ (an action taken against a release to disallow it) or even not nuking a release can affect quality and availability of releases. In the scenario below, a better quality version of a movie would be disallowed not due to lack of availability, but due to Scene rules.
“You pre a CAM [release a camcorder version of a movie], it doesn’t get nuked so the next group who has a much better CAM can’t use it now until they get direct line [for the audio track] to pre [release] a TS [Telesync - a cammed version of a movie with audio from a better quality direct source],” KoOlWaReZ explained. “What about the public? In the meantime we get to watch some funky flickering green tinted shit job.”
Others also agree that Scene rules have the potential to hold back the end product.
“The Scene has specific rules which diminish quality, while in P2P having no rules you see some encoders doing a little less than ‘masterpieces’,” says Noir. “You will see P2P putting in more effort into making a video look the same or better than the source itself with the use of filtering. So generally you will see better quality videos from P2P encoders.”
So does this mean that P2P release groups will eventually beat the Scene at their own game? Our contacts generally believed that over time that possibility definitely exists, but noted that P2P groups have a way to go and still owe a lot to their more exclusive cousins.
“The Scene is quite large, larger then P2P, and I have to say it’s more sophisticated,” notes Noir. “If it weren’t for the Scene, most of us in P2P at this moment would not be here.”
While Noir’s innumerable releases appear on both public and private trackers, PrisM favor private sites with acronyms such as TL, BB, THS, MH, SP, TA, PTF. Those with Google and 5 minutes spare and will find them easily. Other release groups we spoke with weren’t keen to say where they release first, but it’s clear that most releases end up on public trackers soon enough, just like the majority of Scene releases.
Inevitably we asked about security. PrisM told us that they tend to support private sites since they’re “more secure” and Noir told us that that although more open than the Scene, P2P groups take enough precautions to stay safe.
“Security on releasing P2P is at a very high standard now and a lot better than 3 years ago,” says PrisM. “The Scene has good security but it also creates ‘hotspots’ for companies like BREIN to investigate highly used servers which is a high risk.”
Two other groups contacted by us refused point blank to talk about their security and shrugged off suggestions that these days their work is very exposed. Questions about their sources went largely unanswered too, but a general theme was “from all the usual places, from all the usual suspects.” Noir acknowledged that things are getting more difficult, but said releases will continue to flow.
“I have been doing this for over 3 years now, and can gladly say I still enjoy it. P2P in general has changed quite a bit since. Although laws are getting harsher and things are getting harder, I’m still happy I can release a movie to a mass community which can entertain themselves for a few hours with family and friends. I’ll do this until I can’t anymore.”
As with all Scene vs P2P debates during the last decade, the comments below this article will inevitably contain arguments about who was really ‘first’ with a release, who stole what source from who, and who re-encoded someone else’s work, ad infinitum. While a few years ago P2P nearly always ‘stole’ the Scene’s work, these days it’s not unknown for the Scene to ‘steal’ the work of P2P groups. This has happened on a number of notable occasions recently, not least on the releases of Wolverine and the James Cameron blockbuster, Avatar.
But while the Scene always get uppity about this situation, it seems that most P2P groups don’t really care.
“We don’t really mind,” say PrisM. “After all, we do this to share with the world, so anyone is welcome to use what they want for whatever reason. We re-encode Scene releases, so they can feel free to do the same to ours. It’s what were about – sharing!”
It’s also probably fair to say that most BitTorrent downloaders don’t care about the source either, as long as the outcome is good. And two sources, as they say, must be better than one.