A Close look to the Underground Scene Release Group

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“The Scene” has no structure, organization or leader. It consists of a multitude of teams (teams) that can include two, three, ten, thirty people of any age and social condition. Each team, however, has a hierarchy of pyramids and members with multiple skills essential to their business. But to describe in detail this underground movement which officiates in the shade for many years is not easy thing. Faced with the repression that is increasing every day in all major Western countries, the groups are redoubling their caution. Despite this, their struggle continues and even increases against a cultural industry that,

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Decrypting an elusive community

The names of some teams - DEViANCE, ADDITION, ISO, FMC, VOMiT, LOL, Fairlight, Razor 1911, etc. - have become famous. And yet, this very closed community whose adage “To live happy, live hidden” does not seek to be known to the general public, let alone the press. As a result, most Internet users who download pirated works over the Internet do not even suspect the existence of such a structured and organized community as “The Scene”. However, the vast majority of releases available on P2P networks, or hosted on Direct Download services (RapidShare, 1file …), boards (forums) and newsgroups come from this community.

Communication methods

This elite warez network has developed a language and means of communication ultra secure. Its members communicate via Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a rudimentary chat service, which allows users to chat in a fully encrypted manner with controlled access via login and password within chanels (channels). Also called “Salons”, these channels are also used to announce new releases released for the community. Beyond these precautions, their codes and their vocabulary (see our non-exhaustive lexicon page 2) are totally incomprehensible for the general public.

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Paradoxically, the teams also seek to make themselves known to their peers to increase their reputation. For this, they sign their exploits on the NFO text files that accompany the releases, and some of them proudly display their logo made by true artists of ASCII art. This artistic discipline consists of creating images using letters and special characters (see image below).

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Motivations, ideology, and ethics of the Scene Warez

There is a big difference between the groups that form “The Scene” and the aforementioned networks that massively disseminate illegal content on the Web. Initially, their goal was not to spoil the rights holders, but to exchange exclusive content between members of their own community. However, bringing and exchanging content is not enough: they must be published the same day or before their official launch (Zero day) and in a quality predefined by the community. The mobility has indeed established a set of very strict technical and safety rules that only a certain population is able to apply to the letter.

Groups like Paradox, Black Squadron ISO, Radium, Reloaded and many others have multiplied the exploits by cracking anti-copy systems of video games and software (The Sims, Assassin’n Creed, Cubase VST, Windows 95, XP , Vista …) some of which were considered at the time as very sophisticated, even almost inviolable. Not to mention that this stage, they realize other feats in formatting, and broadcasting in record time these content in digital version to win the “Race” (Race): an endless competition between teams that consists of being the first to release THE release of a blockbuster, a video game, an operating system, etc. This is how content is found on networks sometimes well before their official release,

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From generation to generation, the ideology of this movement has not changed. Most members are followers of a free, free and accessible culture for all. According to them, digital copies allow Internet users to try products and would not then stop them from buying what they really like. Is piracy really harmful to the industry? More and more people are saying that it will not have a negative impact. The European Union recently commissioned a study(in English) who even showed that it would be beneficial in any case in the field of music. During the administrators’ trial of The Pirate Bay, a university professor called as an expert at the helm by the jury suffered the wrath of the latter for also defending this thesis. A speech that the giants of the entertainment industry do not want, or are not ready to listen …

At the beginning and even today, the community is not in principle intended to make its business a business. However, it is impossible to say that all groups and members of “La Scene” respect this ethics aiming at not monetizing their activity or contacting P2P networks, on pain of exclusion. The temptation to make money can obviously be very strong, and some may have a double cap. There are also precedents such as CiNEFOX, a group of the French warez scene arrested in 2008 that, according to the Police, has made profits thanks to its activity. However, we observe more…

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Clan Wars: myth or reality?

To this question, the majority of people we chatted with responded that the atmosphere between the groups was rather good-natured or even friendly. Others have, however, portrayed a much less idyllic picture, reporting fierce settlements between some teams ranging from insults, hacking between teams, to denunciation outright. Scenes Notices (NFO text files) sometimes circulate in clear on websites with confidential information and of course compromising for this or that team … It would most often be excesses between competing teams officiating in the same category content.

One of the most common reasons for quarreling concerns the distribution of files named “PROPERS”: it is a tag added in the name of a release when it has already been broadcast in a lower quality. According to the rules of “The Scene”, it is not possible to publish the same release twice, unless a team proposes a “PROPER”. This method would be too often used by some teams annoyed to not have won the “Race”, for example. As in all communities, all kinds of more or less serious conflicts can occur …

Warez hierarchy.

Ernesto Van Der Sar, The Site Manager of TorrentFreak

Based in Holland, the TorrentFreak site has become an essential media on the world of hacking. It is one of the few “friend” websites of “La Scene” on which some members sometimes agree to express themselves. We spoke with his manager to try to learn a little more about the habits and customs of the community.

What can you tell us about the underground community called “The Scene”?

EV: The people who create the “releases” (pirated files) are from independent “teams” or part of a group called “The Scene”. They are very well organized with a hierarchy of their own and many rules. Each “team” (team) hackers content with its own means and commits to put them first at the disposal of the community that has the first. It is only then that the files are disseminated, or not, on the Web.

Do teams communicate together?

EV: They are totally independent and, to my knowledge, they do not communicate regularly with each other, at least as far as the “La Scene” teams are concerned.

How are members recruited? What is the typical profile of a pirate of “The Scene”?

EV: It is very difficult to enter into a “Release groups”, one enters there by knowledge and by showing white paw. Teams sometimes communicate their recruitment needs in the NFO * files that accompany releases. There is no typical profile, these are mainly men of different generations and obviously very talented in computer science.

Are the teams motivated by money?

EV: In principle no, the famous “La Scene” teams do this for “sport”, technical challenges, and to have the honor of being the first to share good “releases”.

How do they broadcast original content sometimes even before their official release?

EV: It implies having an excellent network in different industries and in the cultural field. Obviously, this is not enough, because even if they manage to obtain original content, they must have the ability to outsmart copy protection systems that can be extremely complex.

The pirated works are broadcast and some translated with impressive speed and quality that continues to improve. From obtaining the copy, to its distribution, a chain of people with multiple talents intervenes in the process. Pirated files pass from hand to hand and are “releaser” on TopSites (ultra-secure and encrypted servers where the releases are stored) according to very strict rules ratified between groups of the same category. Whether it’s the French, Swedish or American “Scene”, these long-established manufacturing and distribution processes are literally respected in every corner of the globe. But once a file is transferred exclusively to community servers, it usually does not take long for it to be massively distributed on the Web. Every day, hundreds of illegal copies feed warez sites around the world.

From source to TopSite

The original contents are provided to the teams by one of their member or some kind of partner called “Supply”. To obtain content sometimes even before their official release, the latter may have complicities (or direct access) within the audiovisual industry and music, or publishers of games and software. It can also go through various sources - journalist specialized, critics, manufacturing plants, wholesalers, resellers, etc. - having access to media material: “Screeners” (promotional copies), Workprints (versions in production on which sometimes it can miss some sound or visual effects), or definitive media (CD, DVD, Blu-ray …).

For French releases of films, sources based in Belgium, Switzerland or Quebec can provide the “Retail” (final version of a DVD, Blu-Ray …) to “supplys”, because sometimes they come out in these country before France. He can also copy the Master of Cinema (Telecine or TC) on coils with high-end equipment. Or use the different methods -Telesync (TS) - known from a movie theater: directly copy the digital Master in real time from the projection booth with a camcorder on tripod (very good quality), or by filming from the room and in taking sound on an armchair headphone jack for the hearing impaired (quite a variable result). There are certainly many other methods to get preview content that only interested know…

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Transformation of original contents

The contents to be copied are most often in the form of a DVD, a Blu-ray, or even a digital file. Especially when it comes to software or video games, you first need to unlock (or remove) anti-copy systems. A mission entrusted to programmers with advanced skills called “Crackers”. They can also create a “keygen” (key generator to use pirated software), or even a “crack” (a great specialty of the community) which will allow to modify the program and to open it in particular without even needing to indicate a serial number. This sometimes challenging phase is the pride and reputation of the groups. Depending on the original medium, the contents must be ripped, encoded, even scanned (in the case of ebooks) to be transformed into digital files. As we have seen, this step is framed by draconian rules in order to obtain files of good size and quality. This method of work characteristic of “La Scene” groups also marks a big difference with those of P2P who do not control their releases.

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Once the correct format and unlocked, the files are sent to the “Siteop” (administrator of a TopSite) who entrust them to a team of “Nukers” (people responsible for verifying the compliance of releases). They make sure that they do not present any defects (offset between the image and the sound, compression too high, corrupted file …), and if they have not already been published by another group. When a release has already been broadcast by another team, it is found (in warez language) “Nuke for Dupe”, that is to say, it is eliminated, because there is already a copy of the same quality on the network. If it is compliant (this is called a “PRE” release), it is automatically transferred to the group’s private TopSite. then spread on all those with which it is affiliated by “Racers” or “Traders” (according to the teams). In a few minutes, she gets a preview of the entire community.

Massive Dissemination of Illegal Copies on the Web

These very coveted files are found very quickly accessible to everyone on the web. The vast majority of “The Scene” members do not spread their precious loot outside the TopSites. However, it is clear that people who are or are not part of “The Scene” then circulate the releases on P2P networks, newsgroups, etc. In one way or another, they have access to a TopSite on which they download the releases and send them on public networks. This is where a huge business starts on P2P networks, sites that index download links, Direct Download services (Uptobox, 1file, Rapidgator …), Boards (warez sharing forums), Newsgroups operators, etc.

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Translation of the releases

If in recent years the piracy has taken such magnitude, it is also thanks to the incredible work of the teams of translators called “fansubs” who take care of the subtitling of movies, TV series, broadcasts, video games, manga etc. in all languages. Some cultural works that may never have crossed the borders of their home country are accessible worldwide! In particular, they made a splash of Japanese animation films that were generally not translated. Not to mention the huge success of the American series which beat all the records of illegal downloads in the world, thanks in particular to these teams of translators.

These passionate groups who work in the shade or in daylight, it depends, are not part of “The Scene”. There are two big schools: the fast-sub teams whose goal is to provide subtitles as soon as possible after the release of the release, and the quality-sub performing sub-titles. Titration of a quasi-professional level. A tedious and complex task that consists of paying attention to misinterpretation, spelling, synchronization between image and sound, and typography. Teams are on the web, like Subfactorywho continually recruits volunteer subtitlers. She is known to have been the first to subtitle (at the time under the name of “sub-way”) the very first episode of Prison Break in 2006. In France alone, there are a good fifty teams of translators …

Despite the repression that is increasing (at the beginning of the year the leader of the IMAGiNE team has been sentenced to 5 years in prison, one of the heaviest penalties inflicted in a case of piracy), nothing seems to stop "The Scene ". FBI’s “Fastlink” operations (2001 and 2004) and “TopSite” (2010), which brought together authorities from 14 European countries, seriously undermined but did not destroy it. For the latter, the European authorities announced having stopped a traffic representing a shortfall of six billion euros for the industry … Numbers very disputed, because no calculation can determine which downloads of pirated content would have been actually converted into purchases.

Whatever the blows and the risks, this community of enthusiasts does not seem ready to hang up the gloves. The only way to stop this phenomenon is probably that the cultural industry starts to offer solutions like Deezer, Spotify, etc. in music, which would have started to substantially reduce the illegal downloading in this area. With the proliferation of digital tablets, smartphones, connected TVs, etc., we consume many more cultural products than in the past. However, not only the prices of video games, disks, DVDs, or ebooks do not drop, but many are partitioned to such or such devices through DRM or other digital locks.

The vast majority of members of “The Scene” denies wanting to get rich with their activity in the community, but the huge amount of traffic generated by their pirated content in P2P networks and other hosts is blurring their ideological message. As a result, the idea of ​​a compromise with the entertainment industry seems utopian, and yet not everything is all black or white. “The Scene” has been successful in producing and distributing large-scale digital versions of cultural works long before the industry knows how to do it … Although its activity remains illegal, it must be recognized that without it, many works would be much less popular, and perhaps less profitable for the entertainment industry and rights holders. A subject that has not finished debating.

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Article credit: clubic

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