Help Key: The Essential Guide to Piracy


“Piracy” happens, piracy will never go away, and, as a service to you we’ve decided to explain some of its relevant points to the uninitiated. Whatever your stance on the topic, if you’re reading this, you don’t understand it and want to learn more and if you’re not reading it you already have terabytes of “H0T WAR3Z” on your hard drives anyway. Call it illegal, call it an act of rebellion, call it what you will. Our goal in “Help Key” is to help our audience understand complex topics and piracy, to say the least, is a complex topic. – John Biggs

Piracy is an action sport. The ability to infringe copyright and steal valuable work induces a rush like no other. Whether you steal music, movies, books, applications, or whatever, it feels like breaking the law and it saves our wallets and purses from becoming empty. But not everyone is as fortunate as we are to know the ins and outs of the world of piracy. There’s so much to take in and only so much time for us to Google around for the answers to our questions. Luckily, you have a master pirate on deck to help you with understanding the basics that will get you downloading Spiderman 3 in no time.

For this Help Key, I’m going to break it down into a few separate sections. This will allow you to skip to the section relevant to you and will also allow us to discuss topics in an organized matter. Ok. Computer on? Let’s get started.

Understanding Piracy

Piracy is a vast underworld of skilled, ninja-like hackers who blow up mainframe computers for profit. Actually, this is a complete lie, but the underworld part has some truth to it. There are two types of people/groups releasing movies, music, and everything else to the general public. There is the individual pirate who is on their own and perhaps decided one day to sneak a camcorder into the 11:35am showing of Happy Feet. He will go home, rip the video from his camcorder, encode it in a proper format, usually in the XviD codec, and will upload it to either a server or his peers. Some would call “casual piracy.” Nothing too huge and the pirate keeps to himself mostly. Your casual pirate could also be a top-tier uploader as well, someone who sends file after file to sharing sites in order to improve their ratio so they can download other files.

Then there is The Scene. According to Wikipedia, The Scene is a term used to refer to a collection of communities of pirate networks that obtain and copy new movies, music, and games, often before their public release, and distribute them throughout the Internet (and previously through BBSes). A pretty solid description there and accurate as well. Scene groups work together over the Internet to put together “releases” which are then mass-distributed over networks such as IRC, Forums, Bit Torrent trackers, and so on.

So why do these people pirate? Who knows. It could be the thrill, it could be boredom or millions of other reasons. With the rise of DRM (Digital Rights Management) limiting the use of what we can do with something we already paid for, many people are turning to piracy as a way to free their data from the chains of DRM. After all, why the hell should I have to pay $15 for a Rage Against The Machine CD I lost back in 1997? I already bought it, I’m just re-downloading it because the CD can’t be found. Which brings us to our next topic…

Ways To Pirate Movies/Music/Software

If it’s a digital file, you can pirate it. But the sake of my fingers and your eyes, I’m going to stick to the top three pirated filetypes: music, movies, and software. This is a guide on how to pirate properly with specific applications. If you don’t know about some of these applications or methods used below, just search for them in Google and something informative is bound to come up.

As of right now, I’d say the best possible way to pirate something is through Bit Torrent. Using .torrent files and an application called a client, we can download files from other people using a tracker. A tracker coordinates the transferring of files among peers. All you need to know is that there are two kinds of trackers: public and private. Download from a public one such as Mininova, The Pirate Bay, or ISO Hunt, and you may find yourself getting sued by the MPAA or RIAA down the road. This may or may not happen and it’s all about being careful.

Public trackers are good for two things: learning how to use Bit Torrent properly and getting the occasional file we can’t find on a private tracker. The other day I wanted to watch a specific movie I couldn’t find on a private site. I went to Mininova, grabbed the torrent, and downloaded it. No big deal. I probably won’t get caught. I just know I should only use public trackers when all else fails. A lot of older movies are available on public trackers, so feel free to use them at your own risk.

On to private trackers. Private trackers are a part of invite-only or closed community Bit Torrent sites. I’m not going to name any specific sites here, but these sites require knowing someone who has an invite and asking them for one. Once you’re invited, you are expected to keep a certain ratio. This means for every gigabyte you download, you should upload as well. This keeps everyone on the site happy and allows for super-fast, safe downloads of content you’d otherwise spend hours downloading off a public tracker. So if you download an album off a music site that is 120MB, be sure to keep your torrent client open until you’ve uploaded 120MB or more.

The advantage to these invite-only sites is just that. It’s invite-only. This means the MPAA or RIAA or FBI can’t automatically sign up, upload a torrent, and track you. This ensures everyone’s safety and also keeps the idiots away who come to leech off fair users like myself. You’ll notice that private sites also tend to have a greater library of content and of better quality. Looking for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie? It’ll hit the private trackers before the public ones, which again, is another advantage.

So now you’ve got the basics of Bit Torrent sites down. This method costs us no money, is the fastest free way to pirate, and can also save our asses from getting caught. But perhaps Bit Torrent is too hard for you to grasp or you can’t forward ports on your router properly due to limitations. Then what do you do? Use an alternative method of pirating. Duh.

Methods of Pirating

You can use multiple methods to get the same Rod Stewart albums you’ve been wanting for years. Here are some methods that will help you unleash your inner pirate:

Traditional P2P Applications (Kazaa, Limewire, etc.)

This is where your old pal Napster would fall in. Kazaa, Limewire, BearShare, whatever your poison is, these are all peer-to-peer applications that allow the sharing of files from one user to another. I personally keep Limewire around for times I need one specific song or a rare file. You can get caught on these still, but the chance is minimal as long as you keep your pirating to the obscure and hard-to-find items. Even getting one or five Beatles songs won’t hurt you. The downside is that a lot of viruses hang out on P2P networks. If you use a Mac, no biggie. But Windows users are probably better off just skipping P2P altogether or using it very cautiously.

Bit Torrent

Again, as we discussed above, this is currently one of the most popular ways to share files. You help share the file as you’re downloading it and after it’s downloaded. Everyone else does the same. It works out like a big, happy, sharing family. I already went into detail about trackers above, so I’ll recommend some applications to use for Bit Torrenting since some are actually banned on private trackers.

If you use Mac OS X, I recommend Bit Rocket. It’s pretty much the only stable, fast client with an aqua GUI and it’s easy to use. Windows users should definitely use uTorrent, which is by far the most robust torrenting software available for the OS. If all else fails, you’re in a pinch, or use another operating system, there’s always Azureus. Azureus is a huge, highly configurable Bit Torrent client written in Java. It will always work and will always get the job done, but on Mac OS X especially, it’s one slow application. Use Azureus if other clients start messing up or if you’re clueless about Bit Torrent in general.


Usenet is an old global Internet discussion system that can be used to share files. It’s the fastest way to get your download on, requires no uploading, and a lot of stuff appears here first. However, Usenet isn’t entirely free. Your ISP may give you Usenet access, but most people end up paying a monthly fee to a third party like GigaNews for unlimited access. You can use a Usenet client for your OS to connect to a server which you’ll then download files off of. It’s also not the easiest method to rush into and requires a bit of reading and learning before you use it.

File Transfers

Have an AIM account? Does your friend? Great. Start up your AIM client, IM your friend, initiate a file transfer and presto, you’re now a pirate. Yup. You can use your favorite IM program to send huge files between two people. Easy, free, and you won’t be caught. Recommended for the casual pirate who plans on sharing a file or set of files once or twice tops.


MediaMax is an online storage locker where you upload files to the company’s servers. You pay a monthly fee for a set amount of data to be downloaded (10GB for example) and once you’ve pirated that amount, you’re done. You can upload all you please and the company has a blatant disregard for anything copyrighted. I gave out my account to some people on private Bit Torrent forums and I’ve seen some cool stuff uploaded. The new Bjork album, Batman Begins, and plenty of other treats. Check out and see how you feel about it.

IRC (Internet Relay Chat)

IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. You basically connect to a server, go into a chat room, and start browsing through people’s material. When you find something you like, you type in a command and start downloading it. You may get lucky and can start downloading right away. Half the time though, you’ll get caught in a queue, which essentially means you’ll have to wait for people in front of you to finish downloading before you can start. IRC isn’t as popular as other methods, but it’s generally safe and packed with good finds, especially movies and software.

One of the best IRC clients for Windows is mIRC, while OS X users tend to use Chax or Talk. Personally, I use Colloquy on OS X and find it to be the best client to date I’ve used. Linux users can use the 100,220,393,292 clients people have built for themselves.

Burning CDs and DVDs

Get some software, ask your friends what they want, and make copies. You can make some lunch money doing this or you can be a good pirate or just do it for the sake of freeing media. DVD-Rs are a steal nowadays. This is an easy, safe method that’s perfect for friends wanting to share movies and CDs.

Releasing Materials

So you’ve downloaded a few copies of newly released movies and the excitement is kicking in. You love this. You want to help out and contribute. How can you? Easy. Go through your CD and DVD collection and see what isn’t publicly or privately available and start ripping. A good collection of tools for a pirate to have can include CD or DVD ripping software, video and audio encoding software, compression software, video and audio converters, file converters, and lots more. Just do a Google search for “CD ripper windows” or “audio encoder OS X” to get the appz you need. If they cost money, just pirate them.

Once you’ve got the end result, let’s say a ripped DVD movie, you’ll need to make two kinds of files to be a legit/respectable pirate of the Internet. Include a .NFO file with information about the file you’re offering. It may also have some ASCII artwork. Here’s an example of what you might find inside a .NFO file:

Movie length: 1:45:03
Sound codec: AC3
Video codec: XviD 1.02
Encoded by: handlegoeshere

See all that useful info? Be sure to include it in your release! For more on NFO files, check this link out.

We’re not done though! I said two files should be included along with your release. The second is a .SFV file. Not everyone will use this, but it’s good to have. SFV stands for Simple File Verification. As the name implies, it verifies that the files downloaded are not corrupted or the wrong ones. If the hash check doesn’t work out, you may have a corrupted file, a malicious file added in to your download, or some kind of tracker or watermark an organization has added in. This step is up to you, but generally it’s a good idea. You can learn more about Simple File Verification here.

When all your files are finished, throw them in a properly labeled folder, include any artwork related to your release, and upload it to the internet. If you’re using Bit Torrent, creatie a torrent using a tracker (a freely available public one or a private one) and start seeding the files. If you’re on P2P, just throw it in a .zip file and put it in your “Shared” directory. Using MediaMax? Just upload the folder. Voila. You’ve now released something into the wild and if caught and prosecuted, you’ll be paying all kinds of fines.

Oh yeah. It probably goes without saying, but don’t use your real name when uploading files. Pick a handle that’s not related to you in any way at all. For example, “DallasGuy1982” is not a good handle. I know you’re from Dallas and were probably born in 1982. This narrows down the FBI’s search when they trace your IP address for uploading files to The Pirate Bay. Pick something funny, strange, or obscure. “ReeferMan” or “Gh0st R1d3R” are good choices, albeit cheesy.

Not Getting Caught

As you probably guessed, piracy is illegal. Getting caught can land you some serious fines or even jail-time depending on the offense. Those of you in college should probably stay the hell away from piracy. I personally know about three people who have been caught downloading via Bit Torrent or P2P. The only safe way to pirate is to not do it at all. There will always be a chance that you can get caught, whether it’s the MPAA poisoning a torrent, the FBI giving a plea bargain to your best friend who got caught 2 weeks ago, or one of thousands of other ways.

So how do you protect yourself? Download from private servers and torrent sites. Using public trackers and P2P is like announcing to the world “Hey! Look at me! I’m pirating!” Stay away from anything public related and download in moderation. Scooping up 2TB of files in a week will make you stick out like a sore thumb.

Going to college this fall? Great. Leave the pirating for CD-Rs and AIM. Your college may have a lot of bandwidth to spare, but that bandwidth is being monitored and trust me: the RIAA or MPAA will eventually catch you throughout the next four years of your life. Just read the news and you’ll see how many kids are getting screwed over for $3000 to $6000 for downloading some songs.

Also, don’t brag. You know how the bank robbers always end up getting caught in every movie, right? They start bragging to everyone about what they did and how much they made out with. Telling a friend or two about how you snuck a camera into March of the Penguins and leaked it is generally OK, but don’t start posting shit on forums. Now you’re just asking for it. This is why using a handle is an added layer of protection. Even if they trace a release back to “HornyDude”, they still might not be able to find out who he is. Plus, “HornyDude” will look great on the Federal subpoena.

Well we’re done. Hopefully by now you’ve learned some essential tips to keep you out of trouble and to help you pirate more efficiently. Just remember that it’s not what you pirate, it’s how you do it.

Disclaimer: This guide is for informational purposes only and should not be used to actually pirate. Any reference to myself or anyone else is purely fictional. I don’t pirate, I bought all 100GB of music on my iTunes library legally, yo.