While piracy today is more widespread than ever, the urge to share content online has been around for several decades.
The first generation used relatively primitive tools, such as a bulletin board systems (BBS), newsgroups or IRC. Nothing too fancy, but they worked well for those who got over the initial learning curve.
When Napster came along things started to change. More content became available and with just a few clicks anyone could get an MP3 transferred from one corner of the world to another. The same was true for Kazaa and Limewire, which further popularized online piracy.
After this initial boom of piracy applications, BitTorrent came along, shaking up the sharing landscape even further. As torrent sites are web-based, pirated media became even more public and easy to find.
At the same time, BitTorrent brought back the smaller and more organized sharing culture of the early days through private trackers.
These communities often focused on a specific type of content and put strict rules and guidelines in place. They promoted sharing and avoided the spam that plagued their public counterparts.
That was fifteen years ago.
Today the piracy landscape is more diverse than ever. Private torrent trackers are still around and so are IRC and newsgroups. However, most piracy today takes place in public. Streaming sites and devices are booming, with central hosting platforms offering the majority of the underlying content.
That said, there is still an urge for some pirates to band together and some use newer technologies to do so.
This week The Outline ran an interesting piece on the use of Telegram channels to share pirated media. These groups use the encrypted communication platform to share copies of movies, TV shows, and a wide range of other material.
Telegram allows users to upload files up to 1.5GB in size, but larger ones can be split, in common with the good old newsgroups.
These type of sharing groups are not new. On social media platforms such as Facebook and VK, there are hundreds or thousands of dedicated communities that do the same. Both public and private. And Reddit has similar groups, relying on external links.
According to an administrator of a piracy-focused Telegram channel, the appeal of the platform is that the groups are not shut down so easily. While that may be the case with hyper-private groups, Telegram will still pull the plug if it receives enough complaints about a channel.
The same is true for Discord, another application that can be used to share content in ‘private’ communities. Discord is particularly popular among gamers, but pirates have also found their way to the platform.
While smaller communities are able to thrive, once the word gets out to copyright holders, the party can soon be over. This is also what the /r/piracy subreddit community found out a few days ago when its Discord server was pulled offline.
This triggered a discussion about possible alternatives. Telegram was mentioned by some, although not everyone liked the idea of connecting their phone number to a pirate group. Others mentioned Slack, Weechat, Hexchat and Riot.im.
None of these tools are revolutionary. At least, not for the intended use by this group. Some may be harder to take down than others, but they are all means to share files, directly or through external links.
What really caught our eye, however, were several mentions of an ancient application layer protocol that, apparently, hasn’t lost its use to pirates.
“I’ll make an IRC server and host that,” one user said, with others suggesting the same.
And so we have come full circle…