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Even first-run movies get ripped. "Remember what happened to The Hulk?" he asks. On June 6, two weeks before its official release, a near-final version of The Hulk showed up online. To hear studio executives tell it, the bootleg went straight to the P2P networks and spread like a contagion.

"Bullshit," says Forest. "Trying to distribute The Hulk through the P2Ps would take months, not hours." That's because files on the public file-sharing networks, where no single node is much more powerful than the next, spread at a glacial pace. Furthermore, when users connect to a P2P network - FastTrack, for example - they connect only to a small proportion of the number of other users connected at the same time. So unless a topsite seeds a file across the P2P network, the odds are slim that someone searching for a copy will actually find it.

Movie pirates get their booty from one of three sources: industry insiders, projectionists, or agents placed inside disc-stamping plants and retail outlets. "Half the kids in the scene work at Best Buy or Blockbuster to get their hands on stuff they can release," says Frank. "At the factory, maybe 15 percent of CDs and DVDs are defective," says Forest, "usually just because the label is off a little bit." They're dumped into a rubbish bin, ripe for the picking.

"Call it trickle-down file-sharing. The goods - a game, movie, song, or other piece of copyrighted media fall into an insider's hands. Then it's only a matter of hours before a drop becomes a tidal wave." - Erik Malinowski

Industry and theater employees run their own straight-to-video operations. Hackers looking for prerelease videogames target company servers. And before that long-awaited CD hits Amazon.com, moles inside disc-stamping plants have already got a copy.

The pirated goods are passed on to a release group. These groups take multi-gigabyte movie files and squeeze them down for easy online trading.

Release groups are known to have exclusive relationships with certain so-called topsites. These are the highly secretive sites at the top of the distribution pyramid. When a topsite operator drops a file, the avalanche begins.

Alerted by release groups, worker bees spring into action, copying and transferring files from the topsites to lower-level dump sites, and then from there to P2P networks like Kazaa and Morpheus. For the couriers, the payoff is props from their peers and credits redeemable for goods on upper levels of the pyramid.

After the file is copied thousands of times the P2P networks saturate, allowing casual file-traders easy access to the newest movies, music, and videogames.

- "The Shadow Internet," Jeff Howe, Wired.com http://www.wired.com, Issue 13.01, January, 2005

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Post Date: December 31, 2004 at 8:45 PM; January 1, 2005 at 0245 GMT