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Suddenly I am thrown into a gigantic ring of movie piracy. I didn't ask for it, I don't watch movies ALL that often.

It started at work. All of the companies employees that had been there for over a year, got nifty Compaq Armada laptops. We're talking about a thousand laptops here. We are allowed to bring them in to work, and even bring in CD's! (woohoo!) Soon afterwards the trading started. As I walked down the rows of cubicles I kept hearing "Hey you got Shrek?" and "Look I got Matrix" and "Pearl Harbor just came out, getting it now". These conversations continued and eventually one day I was actually offered a CD from a work-buddy for nothing at all. It was "The Legend of Drunken Master". Outstanding video quality I must say and I was immediately hooked.

Having downloaded some Simpsons episodes and Seinfeld stuff in the past, I knew that I could probably find some movies myself. I started up mIRC, which is a delightful program written by Khaled Mardam-Bey. I connected to dalnet and a search for "movies" brought up a list of rooms with like 400 people in each. Names like Orion-movies and Houseofmovies, etc. I joined a few channels and proceeded to watch for a bit to see how things worked. I learned that the first thing you really need is a divX ;-) codec, since most movies are encoded in it. divX is actually named divX ;-). Most movies are encoded using MPEG4 which divX ;-) does nicely.

Along with now downloading huge movies that take 4 hours on DSL to dl, I also started actively trading at work. (Working at a call center with 2500 people, all of whom take tech support calls, and nearly all of them have burners...Well lets just say I've never, ever had to ask more than 5 people for a particular piece of SW, and I usually have it that day. (That's a topic for another future node though). It's only natural that in such and environment I would be instantly sucked into this vortex of hurried trading, and quick deals. It's almost like drugs were in high school, but with less subtlety, and less waviness. In a week I have 10 movies. I've downloaded a few, but generally I just let all the drones at work sit there idling on IRC.

Eventually it trickles down to me at work. And I find two days after one of the groups releases something, I get it. For instance, this one guy has like 30 gigs on a laptop in there. The movie list is like 5 pages long! Plus this guy is a good friend of mine to boot!

Now I find myself trying to keep up with the Joneses, because most of the time everyone who has movies already has the old ones, and I'm afraid if I don't keep up I'll be out of the loop, and since before long something is going to be done about this blatant careless piracy, I want to get all I can.

Anyhoo I've heard that ripping is rather easy to do, it just takes a bit of time. I might try it one day, and turn all my videotapes of simpsons episodes electronic.

Introduction
Movie piracy is the activity of illegally obtaining and trading copies of movies, typically over the internet. While once this was almost impossible online, due to the excessive time needed to download a movie on a dialup connection, with the explosion of broadband internet into the home, it is now a simple matter for any home user to download any movie of their choice in a matter of hours (or less).

Estimates of how widespread this practice is vary, but one estimate from a CNN investigation into movie piracy during 2002 was that between 350,000 and 400,000 feature length movies were downloaded per day, being double the figure 18 months prior. Doubtless this figure is now much higher again.

Behind this practice there are countless encoding groups all involved in the production of these pirate movies. Better known groups include Centropy, UTi, TCF and ViTE just to name a few. All of these groups are in contest for prestige, each aiming to be the first group to release a movie in the highest quality possible, so that their encode may spread and be viewed by as many people as possible, so as to increase the group's profile. Many of these groups include workers in the movie industry itself, who leak pre-release copies of movies for encoding purposes. As such, it is not unheard of for movies to be released well before their cinema release date. One recent case in point was Spiderman the movie, which was out on the internet far in advance of its cinema release.

The movie piracy scene has now reached such a size that it has evolved a culture of its own. It has its own terminology, conventions, heirarchy, and even completely formalised rules over what is required of a movie release for it to be acceptable. Indeed, it is challenging at best to provide a sufficient overview of the movie scene in one writeup, much of it has to be experienced for oneself. Though for now, this should serve to give an adequate understanding of the way things work in the movie scene online.


Terminology
There are many terms commonly used in the discussion of movie piracy, describing anything from the source of movies, the means of recording, and the file format.

Sources:
Cam: This describes a recording taken using a digital video camera of a film playing in a public cinema. This is typically considered the lowest quality of source for a movie encode, due to the fact that cams almost invariably have a fairly low picture quality, and worse yet, atrocious sound quality, since they are mono-sound only, and pick up any noise made in the theater.
Telesync: Similar to a cam in most aspects, a telesync recording uses an external audio source (eg an audio jack in a theatre), and as such is of slightly higher quality. Under the "rules" of the movie encoding scene, it is the first group to bring out a telesync that "wins" the race and earns the kudos for releasing a new movie. Cam encodes are looked upon as insufficient due to their lower quality, and as such it is the telesync that most encoding groups rush to produce.
Telecine: Very rare these days, a telecine is a recording made using specialised machinery to copy the video and sound directly from the reel. As such a telecine typically is of very good quality, but are hard to find.
Screener: A screener is a special pre-release VHS or DVD copy of a movie used for promotional purposes (for example, these are often sent to movie critic for their consideration). Typically these recordings are of near perfect quality, especially if the source was a DVD screener. The only weakness at all of a screener is that they will usually have watermarks placed in various points of the film stating something along the lines of "Property of *STUDIO NAME*" or such like, and occasionally have some scenes in black & white. These days, it is generally the DVD screener release of a movie that movie traders desire most, since they are both quick to be released (sometimes even before the movie is in theatres), and of excellent quality.
Rip: A rip of a movie is an encoding made from the final made-for-home version of a movie. As such, these are of the highest quality and have no watermarks at all. However, the downside of a rip is that they cannot be made until the movie is already available for the public to own, whereas one of the main aims of a movie trader is to obtain a movie as quickly as possible after its cinema release (or better yet, before the cinema release). Typically the term "Rip" is used with a qualifier, making it either "DVDRip" or "VHSRip" depending upon the source, though "LD-rip" is not entirely unheard of, being from a laser disc.
TVrip/STV/HDTV: These are encodes made by recording from a TV source (eg an ordinary TV tuner card) onto the encoding computer. STV (Satellite TV) and HDTV (High Definition TV) are really just sub-types of TVrip which I mention for completeness, being better than your average TV antenna for reception. These types are quite rare in movie piracy itself, and are more commonly found for TV series episodes, where the first available release is the TV one, wheras for a movie, there will almost invariably be a DVD/VHS release out by the time it reaches TV, which will tend to be of a higher quality.

File Formats:
VCD: Short for Video CD, VCD encoded movies are of a reasonably high quality, with a resolution of 352x240, compressed under the mpeg1 standard. Since it is possible to fit 70 minutes of VCD movie onto one CD, most releases in this format are 2 CDs in size. The biggest strength of having a movie in VCD format is that they can be played not only on a computer, but also in any DVD player.
SVCD: SVCD is short for Super VCD, this format has largely replaced VCD in many circles, since it is not only playable in DVD players, but also offers a much higher resolution of 480x480, compressed with the mpeg2 codec (the same as used in DVDs). An SVCD release can be up to 4 CDs in size for a long movie, but is now looked upon as the "ultimate" format by many, because of its exceptional quality.
DivX: This format is not as fixed as VCD or SVCD, but merely is the name of the codec used to compress the movie. DivX movies typically offer a better size for their quality than either of the previously mentioned standards, with an very high quality recording of most films fitting into two CDs, or even onto one. However, the downside of all this is that this format is not supported by DVD players, and as such can only be viewed on a computer.
XviD: A new codec on the scene, XviD is similar to DivX, offering comparable quality and size. This format is under heavy development, and appears to be likely to overthrow DivX as the dominant codec for computer video encoding in the near future, thanks to a number of new features being added which promise to make it deliver higher quality recordings in the same size.
OGM: OGM is a format which uses the OGG codecs for its various components. A feature-rich format, this does not however have the degree of widespread support that AVI does. However, this format is quite often used in anime circles, since one of OGM's benefits is that it supports subtitles and audio tracks in several languages (so that the viewer can choose to watch it in the original language with subtitles, or with an english dubbing), and since anime fans are infamous for their fanatacism, the need to install software for a new codec is hardly a problem.
DVD-R: Still rare because of the prohibitive size, DVD-R movies are released in full DVD quality, and require a DVD writer to burn onto a disc, though it is possible to watch them from one's computer. While this of course offers the highest possible quality, their size is typically several gigabytes, meaning that obtaining one off the internet is difficult at best, in addition to the fact that few people so far own the DVD writers required to watch them on a TV set. DVD-R is at present the highest quality level that is found in online movie piracy. It should be noted that the genuine retail DVD will sometimes be of fractionally better quality, due to the fact that in the case of longer movies, they will often be re-encoded to a fractionally lower quality so that they can fit onto a DVD-R (since a retail DVD can actually hold twice the amount a DVD-R can).

Description Tags: One practice common in movie trading is encoding groups is to add descriptive tags to their releases for various reasons. These are normally found in the file name of the movie when found online, and have various meanings. Not all of the information about a movie is kept in its tags however, and for all the information about a particular encode, one should refer to the NFO file which should usually be distributed alongside it.

Internal: This is a release which has been made by a group, but they are not "officially" releasing to the public. Typically this tag is added to a movie to make it clear that the people releasing it do not feel that the particular encode is up to their usual standard, and so preserve their reputations by only primarily only releasing to members of their own encoding group. These encodes can still often be found around the internet, but are generally avoided for their lower than normal quality.
Proper: In the race to be the first group to release a given movie onto the internet, corners are often cut, resulting in the first available encode to be of a less than sterling quality. While normal scene etiquette states that the first group to release "wins", other groups may release their own versions if they feel the first release was flawed. In order to make it clear that they are releasing this with the goal of improving on an earlier release, the tag "proper" is used. As such, while "proper" releases require an additional wait, they are almost invariably superior to the first released copies of movies on the internet, and as such are preferred by most once they become available.
Subbed and Unsubbed: As the name suggests, a movie marked "subbed" has subtitles throughout the movie, and the tag is placed as a warning so that people are not upset by the obstruction of the movie's visuals that this causes. If a subbed release is made, a future release without subs will normally be tagged as "unsubbed" in order to differentiate it.
Nuked: This tag states that the marked encode has been removed from distribution, normally due to some kind of serious flaw. You will very rarely see this tag actually on an encode, since if it's nuked, it's not going to be there to see. It's more likely to be seen on a site like VCDQuality when they amend an encode's name to include the tag. This term will even more often be used in conversation, such as "The copy of Matrix 3 on my favourite FTP was nuked for being a mislabelled copy of Daredevil".
Dupe: A dupe is an unnecessary duplicate encode of a movie. If there's already a perfectly good version of a movie out, then under scene rules, you better have a good reason to release your own. Of course, in practice these reasons tend to be pretty trivial, or non-existent, and this is often accepted without complaint. As such, if you see a dupe tag in a description of a movie (again, you'll rarely see it on an actual encode, since a dupe is often also nuked), it'll usually only be because the later encode was noticably inferior to the earlier one, so there's not much point in getting it. Limited: A limited tag means that the movie is one only screened in a small number of theatres. This in no way implies that it's a bad movie, or a poor encode, simply that it's not a huge blockbuster.
Repack: When seen, this tag means that the labelled encode of a movie is not direct from the original source, but rather uses another encode of the movie as its source. While rare, at least among the "better" groups, this is often done to make a movie fit onto less CDs than it originally needed (eg by re-encoding a 4 CD VCD down to a 2 CD AVI). It is also occasionally done to correct flaws in the original, for example by adjusting the colour a little if the original had a particular tint.

Learning by Example: While all that terminology is all fine and good, the best way to learn it is simply to see it in practice. Take for example the following actual file name I found using XdccSpider:
"Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets DVD SCR SVCD-UTi CD1"
What this name tells any movie collector is firstly that the movie's title is "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets", that it is a DVD screener ("DVD SCR" for short), encoded into SVCD format by the encoding group UTi, and that this file is the first CD in the release.

Just for the sake of practice, here's a few more example titles grabbed off the net:
{hQ}Soldier (1998) DvDRiP DivX Cd01 (hint: some groups put their name at the front of the title)
{mE}catch me if you can-subbed ts 2of2 avi (hint: ts = telesync)
Dont Try This at Home PROPER DVDRip XviD-QiX


Encoding
Encoding is the term used for the process of creating a movie for distribution online. The first step is of course to obtain your source. In order to make a cam or telesync, the usual means is to take a good quality digital video camera and a small tripod on which to rest it, and just set yourself up in any movie theatre (preferably at a fairly empty session), and in the case of a telecine, the input is in TV format direct from a telecine machine. In either case, what you have is a TV out signal, which can easily be plugged into a computer with a TV-in card and converted into video files, which are then re-encoded for distribution.

Probably most worthy of discussion is the making of a dvdrip or dvd screener. In order to do this, one needs a computer with a DVD drive, and a very large amount of free hard drive space (say 10 gigabytes or so to be on the safe side). The exact means of encoding varies depending on what end result you want, and on what program you are using to do it. However, the general idea normally consists of a similar series of steps.

Firstly, the DVD needs to be decrypted and placed onto the hard drive. This is done with a program such as DVD2AVI, or if you're feeling retro, with DeCSS. All this step does is take the VOB files from the DVD, decrypt them, and place them in a readily readable format on your hard drive as seperate movie and sound files. Then, the encoder can choose from any number of AVI or VCD encoding programs to complete the job. All they need to do is set the bitrate of the movie to an amount which will cause the end video/s to be of the desired size (normally an encode will be designed to precisely fill a number of CDs, rarely will a release have a half-full CD, on the basis this is wasteful, and also against the scene rules). In the case of DivX/XviD encodes, things can be slightly more complicated, since the standards are looser the encoder must specify audio and video bitrates seperately, as well as tweaking the codec (eg the DivX codec has a low-motion and high-motion mode). However, the end result is the same. In goes a DVD movie containing several gigabytes of data, and out comes a ripped movie at a fraction of the size. For more information, see How to Make a DivX Rip.


Distribution:
In many ways, the distribution of movie encodes is very similar to that of warez. Firstly, the encode is produced by an encoder who will usually be part of an encoding group such as Centropy or UTi. This encoder will then upload this movie to the group's topsite, usually an FTP with an absurdly high bandwidth, normally 100+ mbit/s. From here, the group's couriers will distribute it on to major dump FTP servers, where it then flows on to more servers, and then on to the end user.

Nowadays, most of this distribution amongst FTPs is done using FXP, speeding up the flow of data, to the point that now a movie encode can easily be found by ordinary users within one or two days of its original release. For an ordinary end user, the fastest place to obtain a movie would most certainly be IRC, where XDCC bots in large dedicated movie trading channels distribute the movies at high speed (don't even bother unless you have a good connection). Some lucky users may have FTP access and be able to obtain files faster that way, but for most people IRC is the fastest. P2P file sharing programs such as Kazaa and Gnutella are typically the worst place to find a movie, since few if any fast servers can be found on these services.

As for finding out when these movie releases occur, and what their quality is, the universally recognised web site for this is VCDQuality (http://www.vcdquality.com). VCDQuality provide JPEG samples of recent movie releases, as well as information about them, and poll scores by downloaders of the movie to give a guide of video and sound quality. When one find a release on VCDQuality that one wants, typically the next port of call is a site such asPacketNews(http://www.packetnews.com) or XdccSpider (http://www.xdccspider.com), which are IRC XDCC search engines, which will find XDCC bots with the desired movie release on IRC, and return their locations. Then one simply takes the given results, hops on IRC, and queues themselves on one of the servers with their desired movie. In the case of a large download where one is uncertain of the quality, it can also be a good idea to download a sample first. Most servers carrying a movie encode will also provide a small sample of the video, so as to provide a taste of its quality.


While IRC is by no means the only way to get movies, it is probably the best way, especially for recent releases. One other alternative is to use Usenet binary groups, which tend to be extremely fast, since they're running off your ISP's news server, though they have the disadvantage that often the files will be incomplete. Otherwise, if you can't find a movie elsewhere, P2P programs such as Kazaa, eDonkey and Direct Connect are good for finding obscure films, due to their large subscriber base, though the first two tend to be slower due to the many "ordinary" users out there, whereas Direct Connect and IRC servers tend to be somewhat more exclusive, if only in that Joe Sixpack doesn't know how to use them.

One newer form of distribution is Bittorrent. While I'll refer you to its node for information on what it is an how to use it, sites such as Suprnova (www.suprnova.org) exist where any person may join a bittorrent distributing releases of the latest movies, without the need to join any kind of queues. However, bittorrent does have the disadvantage that it is generally only good for recent movies, with little chance of obtaining anything older than a year or two from it.

While most of what I've discussed has been with relations to online movie piracy, it should be noted for completeness that it is possible to buy pirated movies in person as well. While the internet does provide the easiest distribution for groups engaged in movie piracy, there are countless people selling pirated VHS or DVD movies if you know where to look for them. Indeed, in the case of the Attack of the Clones Star Wars movie, street sellers in New York had the movie before the online groups did, with the result that the first online releases available were in fact simply VHSrips of that pirate tape. This is particularly widespread in the asian market, where it is a trivial matter for one to obtain pirate copies of movies, complete with poor imitation covers for only a few dollars. Though of course, why pay even a few dollars when this is all available free online?

Legality:
I'm sure none of you should need this told to you, but movie piracy is illegal. If you own the original, then it is permitted for you to own alternate copies of it (for example, a DivX DVD rip so you can watch it on your non-DVD equipped computer), though I am told that this exception does not apply in the UK. However, apart from that, pretty much any downloading of copyrighted material is illegal. The purpose of this writeup is not to promote movie piracy in any way, but rather is provided for informative purposes, since this is a rather relevant topic on today's internet.

Update: I've since been told by danila that in many countries the downloading of copyrighted material is not illegal. For example, in Finland laws exist specifically excusing the downloader from any liability, with similar regulation in Russia which places all responsibility on the seller. Indeed, in Russia it is even perfectly legal to buy pirated movies stores. However, do check your local laws, since I don't want to end up with a bunch of American college students getting sued by the MPAA and then saying "But Plasma on everything2 said it was okay!".

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, so don't sue me if I'm wrong about any of the legal issues.

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