A person who is a part of the pirate world has revealed that the sites and groups like TBP, YTS, RARBG, etc. we see on the internet are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more about how the pirate world works. How does it obtain copyrighted content from various sources, process it, and make it available to the general public?
A peek into the world of piracy
One of the biggest collections of exclusive pirated content comes from an unknown group of people collectively known as The Scene. The group has been known to exist for decades and has previously been associated with names like Warez Scene.
Over the years, Warez has evolved into a common terminology, more of a noun. It’s not just movies and TV shows — there are various Warez-based groups operating in anonymity catering to the needs of people who don’t want to pay for software.
Source talks about the different terminologies used by The Scene, some of which are already known. For example, Topsites refers to highly-secretive and encrypted FTP servers, where terabytes of copyrighted material is hosted and can only be accessed by authorized users.
The data is then acquired by ‘release groups‘ who process it and transform it into a ‘release‘ which could be provided to the viewers. There is some sort of a race going on where the groups compete to make the release first. Soon after a release ends up of one of the topsites, it gets quickly shared on other topsites by people called traders/racers.
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In general, people who are a part of the group can be referred to as a Scener. To get associated with The Scene, one has to go through a vetting process. The person has to make sure their online identity doesn’t get busted during the process, otherwise, they’ll get eliminated. After all, being hidden is a part of the job.
Source also managed to get past the vetting process and eventually created his own Scene group to harvest content. One thing he points out is that it is hard to achieve ‘trust’ and it might take several months before a new member can be assumed trustworthy. There is always a possibility that some newbie could turn out to be an undercover officer.
How pirates pirate Netflix and Amazon Prime?
However, one of the biggest highlights of the whole entertainment piracy ecosystem is getting hold of the titles available on popular streaming websites. The most notable of them are Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Such content, when it ends up on the internet, is called a WEB or WEB-DL release. It’s different from a WEBrip release where movies and TV shows running on the screen are recorded with the help of hardware and software-based tools.
It’s already a known fact that these streaming sites use the best of encryption and DRM technology to prevent people from accessing, downloading, or copying their content without authorization. But the humans at The Scene have various home-baked tools that can crack open the layers of encryption put out by Netflix and Amazon. So, what you can get is the original footage minus the DRM and encryption.
To harvest source content, the group has exploited one big loophole which the streaming sites can’t practically eliminate. In order to stream content, data needs to be stored on the user’s machine. Due to the fast download servers of streaming services, downloading such files could be a matter of a few minutes.
One surprising thing you might not expect is that the group uses paid Netflix subscriptions to stream content on their devices and get hold of the original source files. Of course, the payment for the same is made through bogus credit cards.
Source explains that the content files are encrypted in a .MP4 container and if one wants to view it elsewhere, they’ll only see a black screen. So, specialized tools are used to remove the encryption from the files.
He also has a coding background and said that he has helped The Scene with a couple of such tools.
Among the lot, Widevine is a commonly used DRM technology but it’s also the hardest to break.
“Without these tools, releasing Widevine content is extremely difficult, if not impossible for most. The tools work by downloading the encrypted video stream from the streaming site, and reverse engineering the encryption,” he told TF.
No Humans Needed
Now, before you assume how tedious this work might be, the whole process of downloading content from Netflix, breaking its encryption and uploading it to a topsite is automated.
Source said that one of his jobs is to write scripts that can automatically download content from streaming sites protected by Widevine. All of these specialized tools are kept highly secretive, away from public exposure. Many technical measures are taken, such as restricting the tool to work on a limited number of servers.
However, he also mentioned that some of these tools are available online in exchange for Bitcoins. Although, they’re not cheap. Also, there is still a big question on whether they work the same as the tools used internally by the group.
Just like streaming content, it also happens that these tools leak on the internet but their replacements are quickly put in place. Still, there is a more serious problem along the way. Widevine is preparing an update for its DRM software and Source said he only knows of a single Windows-based decryption tool that exists right now. It’s is limited to a certain number of groups.
We’ll try to add more information to this article once the third part of the interview gets published.
Can streaming sites fight piracy?
There could be many reasons why people use pirated content. But the reality is that content creators and publishers have always been against the idea of piracy, citing huge revenue losses.
But there are some people who don’t perceive piracy in a negative way. For example, back in 2013, Time Warner’s (owner of HBO) boss Jeff Bewkes called piracy “better than an Emmy.”
Every now and then we see Game of Thrones breaking piracy records. Jeff believes that people who are pirates now can be subscribers in the future. In fact, a previous study conducted by UK-based firm MUSO revealed similar results.
Now, the obvious choice to tackle piracy is to deploy state-of-the-art technologies. But streaming sites, most notably Netflix, are trying unconventional ways — giving people what they want for less.
It is known that Netflix losses around $200 million per month because of piracy. But Netflix CEO has publically supported the idea of people sharing their Netflix passwords. It remains to be seen if such a strategy could be beneficial in the long run. However, there is the other side of the coin.
As video streaming analyst Dan Rayburn told Wired, streaming sites encouraging people to share passwords could induce reverse psychology among them.
“The more digital services allow sharing of passwords, the more people think of it as they’re okay with me doing it, so I’ll just go download a piece of content.”
One thing that’s a big pain for cord cutters is the increasing decentralization in the online streaming world. More and more companies are coming up with their own services. So, for instance, even if someone has a Netflix account, many of their favorite titles could be on other paid services.
The chances are quite a few people are going to keep four different streaming accounts. In such situations, a person with an active subscription might resort to pirate sites to watch one of their favorite shows.
On top of that, pirate streaming sites sometimes provide user interfaces that are better than their paid counterparts. Still, we can’t directly put the blame on the services or the people. But something can be done about this.