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Piracy is big. Despite the big media companies playing Whack-A-Mole with the Pirate Bay The History Of The Pirate Bay: Will It Return? The History Of The Pirate Bay: Will It Return? The world's most resilient BitTorrent site has been shut down shut down. Again. Will it return – and does it even matter? Read More , it’s probably around to stay.

I used to pirate files, services like Spotify Why Taylor Swift Is Wrong About Spotify Why Taylor Swift Is Wrong About Spotify In the past week Taylor Swift has pulled her music from Spotify, inspired countless song-pun laden headlines and reignited the debate about streaming music services. Read More and Netflix have stopped me Is Netflix The Solution to Video Piracy? [Opinion] Is Netflix The Solution to Video Piracy? [Opinion] Netflix recently launched in the UK - and I wrote up a full and shining review of the service last time. It offers an affordable way to get high quality on-demand movies and TV straight... Read More . But I’ve always wondered: where do pirated files come from? At the center of it all are release groups, and their members. But what do these people get out of uploading the latest episode of Game of Thrones?

I talked to a few and found out.

If you want to reach a secretive, Internet-only community there’s one surefire way to do it: ask Reddit. I posted in the r/torrents and r/trackers subreddits asking people who uploaded torrents for interviews and got a great response.

Imagine that: a productive use for Reddit How To Use Reddit Productively. Yes, You Read That Correctly. How To Use Reddit Productively. Yes, You Read That Correctly. Reddit’s just a huge timesink? Wrong. It’s an endless supply of relevant information, if you know where to look. Here’s how to use Reddit more productively. Read More .

Note: All names have been changed. Some at the request at the interviewees, others out of courtesy.


Release Groups and the World of Torrenting

Outside of small, private torrenting communities (called trackers), the majority of TV shows or movies that get uploaded come from a relatively small number of sources — these are the release groups.

Release groups record, encode and then upload the latest albums, movies, TV shows and anything else you can find on torrents. Some release groups have been around in one form or another since the late 1980s. They still largely use IRC and FTP to communicate and share files. The .NFO file that accompanies most torrents generally contains information on what release group shared it originally.


In the small private trackers, anyone can upload and the rules are such that they are encouraged to do so. If someone downloads too much more than they upload they’ll be kicked out.

Uploaders all across the spectrum responded to my interview request.

Giving Back to the Community

What was most surprising about the responses were how similar they were. Almost everyone who responded mentioned one thing more than any other: giving back to the community.

Brian discovered his favourite band thanks to piracy. “I found my favorite band over a decade ago because someone (illegally) burned me a copy of one of their CDs”, he writes, “since then I have gone out and purchased most of their music.” This event obviously had a profound effect on him. He continues, “I try to replicate that for others by making my favorite things available.”

Darren expresses nearly identical sentiments. “The reason I do it is because I love music. The experience of finding a new artist and being enthralled. And by uploading music I become a link in someone else’s journey to discover new music.”

Similarly, for Ed the “main motivation … is giving back to the communities” he loves. He only uploads to private, community driven trackers. Part of the reason he started uploading was to meet the requirements for the user class he wanted. He’s since reached his goals. “Nowadays the majority of my uploads are to fill requests”, he explains, “I like to know that every one of my uploads will at least make someone in the community grateful”.

I find their sentiments difficult to fault. Sharing something that has affected you with other people is a wonderful experience.


A couple of people also explained that they get personal pleasure from sharing files. Alan is the main releaser for a release group. For him, it’s almost all about the thrill. “Whenever I release something big”, he writes, “I’ve noticed I just get like this rush, my heart starts going faster and I’m nervous. It’s almost exciting. And once it’s done, I want to do it all over again, I find myself looking forward to that time where I find something exclusive, something I deem big that I can put out there with our name.”

Brian’s pleasure is less visceral but still a motivation. “I also just like sharing stuff!” he tells me, “I like giving people things.”

For some there is also an underlying political motivation — although it never seems to be the main reason.

Brian feels that “there is no longer a need for the ‘record company’ or even the ‘publishing house’, and movie/tv studios need to wake up and see that their old business model of the last 40+ years is no longer viable.” Explaining he says, “there are things that I upload because I believe there exists a kind of disconnect between the market for goods and the corporations selling them.”

Darren’s sentiments are much the same. “I think it’s sad how music has become such a packaged product. The RIAA and their counterparts in nations across the world have convinced most people that music or ‘real music’ has to be professionally produced for profit and sharing it with others for free is a crime, I don’t see it that way. I think music should be shared and enjoyed freely by everyone.”

Ed also agrees, “while I do believe digital content should be free, or at least ‘try before you buy’ in some capacity”, he’s careful to emphasise that it’s “not really the main motivator.”


Only two interviewees expressed any fear of being caught. Alan, who gets his thrill from the risk, was the most open about it. “It’s weird. It’s really weird. Sometimes I start thinking about ways cops, if they wanted, would be able to bust through my door while I’m half naked. I guess sometimes I just feel like I’m not that safe, even though in my mind, rationally, there’s really no reason for that.”

Darren is also careful, but nowhere near as worried. Explaining his motivations he writes, “I don’t make any money from it, I don’t get any notoriety from it, quite the contrary I try to keep a low profile due to the laws in my country not being favorable towards piracy.”

One of the first people who responded, Frank*, wrote, “I’m sure the answers you will find here are: Fun, community, fame [in the case of some large uploaders], and reward [such as a higher user class].” He was pretty spot on.

Image Credits: Pirate accessories Via Shutterstock

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  1. Anonymous
    June 14, 2015 at 11:19 am

    "The RIAA and their counterparts in nations across the world have convinced most people that music or ‘real music’ has to be professionally produced for profit and sharing it with others for free is a crime, I don’t see it that way. I think music should be shared and enjoyed freely by everyone.”

    Thus We have not to spend money for studios, nor for devices nor for anything.
    So far this guy should pay everybody to get the music produced and put on market, since to produce music, is far to be free and now-a-days it's not even so related to Majors, like he thinks/believes it is.

    I agree to release music for free, as far as who asks for it, is willing to pay all the bills required to produce it.

    And what about respect for other people jobs?
    I mean, these persons, are not willing to spend 0.99 Euro/USD for a piece of music, but yet they spend 600-900 euro/USD for the last iPhone or smartphone whatever.

    The issue is: to have not respect for the other ones job.
    if you enjoy some music, remember that it doesn't come from the vacuum.
    But from people that have hardly worked for it, studied applied the skill, and they have daily bills to pay, exactly like anybody.

    And a fraction of bucks/euro to pay to enjoy, is worth to pay.
    Otherwise I invite all those guys to work for free the rest of their lives, without any Right. To see if they are really coherent with their ideas
    Let's see if it's so "funny" :-/

  2. J7N
    April 5, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I have heard the testimony that a Web service X has stopped someone pirating many times now. Even if only about half of those people are truthful, that is still a lot. The copyright industry may have finally found the recipe to divide pirate communities and lure their users away. The future where trackers no longer exist or aren't accessible without deep personal ties seems frightening. Right now we can already see Steam codes being offered on gaming trackers, which doesn't make any sense. People willingly accept dependance on the Internet "cloud" for their data storage.

    Legal download services suck. They require the use of slow web sites or installation of bulky software such as iTunes, Flash or Steam. The releases are of unknown mastering, and in majority of cases altered from their original form (which we feel the nostalgia for). Music albums are too loud, have different track listing, video games are modified preventing them from running on authentic period hardware. Movie downloads/streams are in low quality that the service has deemed "good enough" for the average consumer, after it has weighed its costs and potential revenue, also keeping the option to offer a "super ultra definition" upgrade at a later time (at a cost).

    Good pirate sites give much more control to the user. They always display the precise release year and other details that identify the release: cover artwork, artists, composers directors and other crew, catalogue number. Remastered editions are usually offered as an option. Movies are available in full DVD, blu-ray or sometimes digital cinema quality for users whose internet connection and ratio support that.

    The Gazelle framework of What CD was originally created to be the best catalogue of music, over any other system including "legal" ones. And it has delivered. And so have the sites derived from that codebase: PTP, BTN, to a lesser extent GGN, TVV. Other legacy sites also exist that are superior to any legal system in browsing and download speed, and data quality: Rutracker, UGamer, CBT, Tik.

    Everything it takes to download is a 1 MB installation of µTorrent. Why would people prefer the "social cloud" then? It must be some clever engineering from the copyright holders.

  3. Michael
    March 12, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Hi Harry,

    Completing a class on American Popular Music in college just now, one of the discussions is piracy of music. If the case isn't as clear cut as that, I would really like to continue the discussion and here what you have to say.

    I would follow the idea of making a case for downloading music if the downloaders end up paying for it, or pay for things they wouldn't have before if they hadn't heard it first. If that is backed up by evidence beyond most responders in forums like this one just saying that this is why they pirate music.

    I've been online since the 300 baud modem. I've had many friends around when the internet began that enjoyed each new technology that came along, and file sharing (music included) has been a thing since we FTP'd to sites in Japan to download music, software, and you know. Of those I got to know on BBS's, websites, and through a 25 year career as an IT professional before becoming a teacher, the majority of those that started downloading music through P2P and other methods are still doing it today. Being up front about it is something I respect, what I struggle with is people using the argument that music is expensive so they pirate, or that music should be free so they pirate, or "I like giving people stuff" so they pirate.

    I look forward to hearing more on the subject. I'm sad that few people comment.

  4. Anonymous
    February 24, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Try before buying. Most movies and music aint worth paying for.

    • Michael
      February 25, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      I always love the argument that music should be free, and that's why people upload it for people to consume. As if it's a benevolent responsibility of some to make music available. Anyone can try-before-you-buy simply by listening to the previews on iTunes, listening to Spotify or Pandora, or (wait for it) the radio. Does someone who likes a movie they pirated run right out and pay for it after they watch it? I would guess that more often than not the answer is no.

      The bulk of downloaders just don't want to pay for it, and I'm sure that outweighs those who listen, like, and buy from then on. Music, movies, and TV have been available for as long as there has been an internet to download from.

      The other argument is that movies and music are too expensive, so to get back at the man, or because "music should be free for all to enjoy", piracy is available. There is enough argument that prices are affected by piracy, no matter what the righteous providers of freedom say.

      Don't get me wrong ya'll, I've acquired my fair share of "previews", and "try before you buy", but let's quit acting like we have the right to circumvent copyright, and piracy laws. We download, because we can. For those who think that music should be free, then why isn't food, clothing, housing, and your computer free? Because they're products, just like music. Someone makes it, and they have the right to be paid for it.

    • Harry
      March 2, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      Hey Michael, the case isn't as clear cut as that. A lot of people who download seem to be bigger fans and thus by more stuff anyway. Most of the studies done on it end up kind of messy.

    • Fink
      April 7, 2017 at 12:07 am

      What about music that is worthy paying for?

  5. Hildegerd
    February 24, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I have used more money on albums and concerts after I discovered piracy then before piracy, so the bay have my support. Love you guys. <3

    • Fink
      April 7, 2017 at 12:06 am

      Yes dude, but not everyone is like you. Can you not see that? It's the others that take EVERYTHING for free and never pay for anything that are sucking the life out of the industry.