Bittorent Thugs
Interview by Patrick McGuire

I

f you’ve ever taken the time to “illegally” download a movie, album, game, or copy of Microsoft Office, you might wonder who it is out there that makes it so easy to rip off artists and software companies. As the network of pirated communication gets more and more complicated, law enforcement and industry alike are finding it increasingly difficult to pin down and persecute those that infringe copyright. Well, I managed to get in contact with a guy who helps run Demonoid, a private, invite-only, bittorrent portal that serves its users torrent files for movies, music, etc. The guy would only talk to me through email, and only through an alias. I know him as ‘C S’. Here’s the interview.

Why are you attracted to “piracy”?

I’m not so much pro-piracy as much as I am anti-megacorporation. Contrary to what a lot of people might think, I actually buy most of my stuff, still. I firmly believe that people should support companies and people that make a good product. The small basement companies that can produce something great really deserve my money in particular. Crayon Physics, for example as being one of the games I recently bought.

But as far as Microsoft, Apple, and others, I tend to want to stick it to them, since what I loathe is mainly the way they do business. Predatory, anti-competitive, & borderline anti-consumer. Apple in particular gives me a hate-on as of late.

Does anyone in your real life know about your online responsibilities?

There’s a couple of very good friends that know. I don’t make it known that I’m a staff member, but I promote the site as “a happy user” The only ones that know that I am on staff are BitTorrent users themselves, and they think it’s neat.

How does Demonoid handle legal threats?

As Demonoid is not based in the US, companies generally don’t even bother with threats since they figure we’ll just laugh at them anyway. Instead they use more interesting measures. Poisoned torrents loaded with malware, fake files, or simply just trying to poison a swarm by injecting bad packets to make people download bad packets, slowing down the speeds and annoying the hell out of people. Sometimes the MPAA/RIAA goons will even use Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks against seeders when a torrent just starts out. Basically, they break the law. Indirectly, of course, since contractors are the ones doing it, not them.

What more can you say about the industry’s DDOS at- tacks etc. How do you detect them? How often does it happen? Which torrents are more likely to be sabotaged than others?

It’s pretty rare that it happens, usually only on new leaked movies. Basically, the person that uploads and starts a seed may get hammered by what’s clearly a DDOS attack. If the number of seeds is small, it may happen to all the seeders. Once there’s enough seeders, there’s no point to continue the attacks. It’s not that often, but I’ve seen it, and been on the receiving end of it.

They are most easily detected by having an network interface device, like Black ICE. A hardware firewall or router can also detect it. Just looking in the log and you’ll see the constant deluge. It’s easy to detect as your internet just slows to a near standstill, or drops entirely.

Latest release movies, ones that just came out in the theater, are the biggest targets. Either for attacks, poisoned torrents, or for monitoring for trying to file a “John Doe” lawsuit.

Without certain specifics, can you explain the types of precautions you need to take to protect your own identity?

I use a free, anonymous webmail account. Also, if I need to, I can use TOR, which is an anonymous proxy system that bounces my connection through several random servers to make it untraceable.

How do you think file sharing will develop in the next ten years?

With home broadband connections getting faster and faster, I can only see it increasing in speed and popularity. Provided that the internet backbones don’t collapse under the strain of it all. With the new ultra-high speed backbones that they are working on, things will be getting very interesting for home speeds.

Also, the people that write Bit Torrent programs are at least as smart as the people trying to catch them. The recent advent of packet encryption and other ways of masking Bit Torrent technology is starting to render things like the brand-new packet inspection systems ineffective or even totally obsolete.

What do you think the future of the recording, film, and media industries will look like?

In a word, bleak. They’re doing alright now, but that will probably change unless they shake up and find a new business model. Don’t buy into their propaganda, they are still posting nice big profits, and piracy hasn’t made much of a dent in their album sales. There was an interesting article where they studied the purchasing habits of people that download, and found that people that downloaded music weren’t likely to buy the music/movie anyway. So it’s not technically lost money, since they never would have gotten it anyway.

The record labels and movie companies got a sneak peek at the biggest money-making opportunity they had seen since the advent of CD. And they threw it away. Online is the future. The bottle has been opened and no amount of money they can throw at it will put the genie back in.

Is it possible to get paid from piracy? Do you know of anyone that has? If so how did they do it and how did others react?

Everyone that I know that does BitTorrent aren’t in it for the money. In fact, most piracy isn’t about making money at all. It’s the DVD counterfeiters that are in it for making a fast buck, and they are NOT related to us torrenters in any way (except that they probably use BitTorrent to get the movies). MPAA and RIAA would have you think that we’re in it to make money from piracy, which is totally untrue.

Consider the youth of today becoming the adults of tomorrow; how will they handle digital content? How do you market to that audience? Will I be listening to my MP3s in 25 years?

The MP3 is already starting to go the way of the dinosaur, being replaced with FLAC, OGG and other advanced formats that preserve the sound quality. These “lossless” formats, (FLAC in particular) are becoming very popular. They are much larger than MP3s, but we’re well past the era when music players only had 64MB of storage that you filled with a 56k dial-up modem. With a 10mbit connection and an 8GB iPod to fill, downloading and listening to a 80MB FLAC album is not a big deal any more.

With the continued increases in disk storage and computer advancements, it’s basically impossible to predict what it will be like in 2 years, let alone 25. And now we are seeing solid state hard drives that could push a future generation iPod up into the 100GB+ range for storage.

How do you think young filmmakers, musicians, artists will be able to profit in the future? If at all?

Easy, the same way that they are right now. A small no-name band decides to release a few tracks, or even an entire album on Bit Torrent, with a link to their web page where people can buy more. They get instant global exposure. For independent bands and such, it’s good that more people hear their music.

How can file sharing get much better than it is now?

It's all about speed. Faster and cheaper internet connections. You can now get 25mbit/s connections in some areas of the US. Better clients that can use masking and encryption to bypass filters and blocks that ISPs use to stop torrents. And storage. As it is big hard drives are so cheap, I’ve stopped buying DVDs and just bought bigger hard drives to store stuff.

What's your favourite invention?

Fire.

How do you see the internet evolving in 10, 20, 50, 100 years? Be as specific and imaginative as possible.

Geez... ten years ago, most people were still using a 56k dialup. And ten years before that, 4800baud was king. Fiber-optic is where the real future of network connections is, I think. I think it’s a safe bet that the world in twenty years will be almost unrecognizable to the people of today.

Originally published in Spring 2009, Issue 3.2.