Author’s note in 2015: I published this guide ten years ago (wow!), so it is no longer definitive, but it certainly is informative. The internet has changed so much that now everyone knows what Bittorrent is. We live in a time when it’s easier to purchase things than it is to steal them. You can watch movies online, download games through Steam, and have Amazon Prime deliver the hard copy two days later. But, back in 2005, this was one of the few options to get content that wasn’t a huge pain in the ass. To bring this into the present, I’ve included my comments, annotated in bold, from 2015 to show you the evolution of “the scene”.
|Just What Is “Warez”?|
“The scene” is an all encompassing term meaning “the warez scene”. Warez is the copy and distribution of copyrighted material through digital mediums. If you just wanted a definition, here you go. In the next few minutes of reading, I’ll show you what warez is, where it all started, how it evolved, and where it is today. Then, if you care to keep reading, you’ll find out how to get warez and how to use it.
Warez all started on something called “BBS” or Bulletin Board System. This system has been widely used since the 1980’s in order to share information. Basically, if you’ve ever been to a forum [message board] on the internet, BBS was the first type of the forum. During the 1980’s, the internet was very slow and computer space was limited. However, as the BBS grew with the rapidly evolving hardware market, people were able to distribute whole disks to other users. The core concept of warez is founded in the idea that if somebody has something, why not let them give you a copy? Since data is something that can be duplicated without quality loss, sharing data to friends and coworkers sounds like a great idea. In reality, many of you will know that it does hurt the software publishers and developers. Groups like the BSA or Business Software Alliance, try to spread the word about the harm that “piracy” is bringing to the technology industry as a whole. Ironically, piracy is a non-profit activity for almost 95% of the population.
In BBS, warez was served in small spanned parts of larger files. In order to make downloading easier and to better make sure that if you do have a corrupt file, you can download just one part again instead of having to download the whole, huge file. The small parts were uploaded by users of a BBS server which had massive storage capabilities at the time in both bandwidth (downloading speed) and hard disk space. In fact, the spanned chunks of larger files are still used today despite the advent of reliable broadband connections; this is most likely because of the strict adherence to the original BBS regulations that have since evolved. First, there were 512 kilobyte pieces of files. Soon, 1.44 megabyte (3.5 inch floppy size), 2.88 megabyte, 15 megabyte, and even special releases in packs of 40 megabytes or more. Just as high-speed internet keeps getting faster, the amounts of data that can be easily transferred just get bigger. (2015: These days you can expect to find releases in just one big file, often as a DVD or Blu-Ray disc image. Clients such as Bittorrent handle the splitting of files on the fly.)
While the BBS system is still around (though more commonly referred to as Newsgroups, mentioned later in part two of the guide), it’s not as widely used as newer alternatives. As the internet continued to advance, new forms of storage became available. The first main type was the FTP, short for File Transfer Protocol. If you download things from the internet, you’ve probably used an FTP server. These FTPs are the side-kick for HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). Basically, in simple terms, the HTTP shows the website and the FTP stores the files. Since users had more hard drive space than ever, sharing really started to become prominent through FTPs by the start of the late-90s. Users can host their own files, set quotas for downloading and uploading files, and establish a large collection of files. Rather than having to sort through posts on the BBS, users were free to get things directly. The other prime branch of piracy was HTTP warez. Starting in the late ’90s as free online companies such as Angelfire and Fortunecity started offering hosting, warez was adapted to be placed on HTTP servers. This means that files were hosted and linked on web sites specially for warez which a user could go to download later. This new form of warez gave to the rise and fall of one of the greatest HTTP-based revolutions of the time: Freegamez4all. The concept was simple: everyone wanted free software, but in the past, it was hard to get. This site gave a simple, direct way to log on and grab the latest and greatest of computer games and applications.
However, the free services which the warez was being hosted off of started to take notice, and, by 1999, all of the major providers were able to scan and delete accounts which were being “abused” in this aspect. Soon, almost all of the files were being put on different servers to lower down the suspicious nature of so many users downloading from a new account. This created a huge hassle for the end user to obtain the files because he or she would have to check several different websites in order to find files. Unfortunately, groups of files would be deleted while others still existed, making the situation even more confusing. Still, even small groups of files on different accounts wasn’t enough, and almost all servers were protected except for emerging foreign companies located in Europe and Asia. Crippled by the low speed of file transfers from Europe, these services were rarely even used (however, South American services were). Yet by the year 2000, HTTP warez was in a significant decline after the hundreds of sites like Freegamez4all shut down due to the lack of ability to find hosts. Also, since the business wasn’t cheap, and it didn’t provide income, about the only way to generate any income at all was by getting more and more people to come to their site and to click through a ton of ads and rating procedures for topsites (sites that rank other sites by their amount of visitors). And since the only companies who wanted to advertise on a warez site were usually seedy (pornographic sites), users were bombarded with things they don’t want. In fact, as I recall, I saw my first popup advertisements on a warez site. Warez has, and always will, be tied to malicious, annoying ways to show users things they don’t want to see.
Among all of this advertisement scheming, Freegamez4all remained free from the ads and grew incredibly popular among anybody who knew about it. And in 2001, Napster was an infant child priding itself on the easy sharing of .MP3 compressed audio files to users around the world. In the case of HTTP piracy, all good things must come to an end. After the total decline of hosting by HTTP, Freegamez4all turned into a private forum for FTP server postings and the occasional legacy HTTP post. By 2003, almost all of the piracy was a very secretive, contained affair on groups of forums. These were largely based on the recently exploited principle of FXP, or File Exchange Protocol; in short, this meant that server to server file transfers were possible, speeding up the sending of files to other FTP sources and greatly improving the spread of warez.
Also around the end of 2003, file sharing software like Kazaa was becoming a household name for getting music and movies in a fast and easy manner. Warez was finally starting to become more accessible to common people. Fearing the massive spread of music piracy, a group of large, over-paid recording executives decided to end it once and for all: the RIAA, or Recording Industry Association of America, was put into service to launch an outright attack on users and the companies that offered the software to the users via an intense series of legal battles. And, while they were able to stop Napster, they were not able to stop other file-sharing services. The RIAA’s campaign was basically just a waste of money which could have been better spent buying modern art work for the poor executives’ extravagant houses or maybe even paying their licensed artists. Today in 2005, their campaign focuses on just causing the user a headache; you may have noticed that if you download a popular song under any of the RIAA’s recording labels, it may just be some really loud white noise or beeping sounds. (2015: They’re still out there and they’re still trying to sue you into oblivion.)
The next big revolution that is just starting now is the Bittorrent revolution. This is a software which creates a fair, equal way of downloading and uploading files to groups of people. Chances are high that you may have already heard of it. This moderately new form of warez is highly accessible and easy to use and therefore is widely known at this point in time. Yet another group of corporate executives fearing loss of consumers in their industry, the MPAA, or Motion Picture Association of America, started an aggressive campaign to stop sites linking to torrent files and even directly targeting the end user. As it stands today, Bittorrent is still alive and thriving as is Kazaa, and the combined campaigns of the MPAA and RIAA have done little to stop the unstoppable. Groups like the EFF or Electronic Frontier Foundation, are fighting for our basic rights to share information across the internet and are currently opposing the harsh attacks that both the RIAA and MPAA are creating. Ironically, the attacks on Kazaa have forced many users to switch to Bittorrent where they must download a full album instead of one song at a time (2015: Modern clients let you choose any of the files you want; thanks technology!). On a side note, other services that I’ll be mentioning later such as WASTE (encrypted file sharing developed by Nullsoft, the makers of WinAMP), are still alive and thriving as well. (2015: I haven’t heard a peep from this project or anything similar in years, sadly.)
Though, behind the curtain, the “scene” is losing its character. Groups of pirates are competing with each other for software releases; they can lie about releases and even steal them to try to win support. I suppose all is fair in love and war, but this type of behavior is really killing off what I remember as a kid. Some say that in 1996 or 1997 it was dying, but I can honestly say it wasn’t until 1999 or 2000 that things headed downward. Warez is just way too easy to obtain and the close-knit societies are falling apart because of this. Not only this, increased legal pressures have made the big talents in the industry go into hiding — or into jail. Personally, I just feel that it is natural evolution, but others have different views on the subject. It can best be summed up in NFO for the release of “Elite Warriors Vietnam” by the group Elegance:
Currently in 2005, some major developments are being made. As to be expected, the FBI launched a large attack against copy protection specialists (known as crackers). While the reports are still debated, over 15 people went to jail in the US and Canada alone; in Germany and the rest of Europe, almost 30 people were picked up. Here is the official FBI press release. However, I have included some of the messages left in release NFO’s and related files:
As you can see, the sense of community really is still alive, even if the FBI tries to kill it.
b. The Warez Stork
Obtaining the software is no easy deed. It takes planning, connections, and maybe a little bit of under-the-table work. I’ll let you figure this much out. When it comes to packaging the software, there are different forms of warez:
Also as mentioned, these releases are subject to certain standards. They must be a certain size, use a certain format, and be compressed correctly. Failure to do so will label important releases as “Nuked”, which means they are tagged as being bad releases not to be used by anyone. Since the groups compete with each other, adherence to the standards is a very important part of maintaining integrity of their work.
Another important aspect of warez is the creativity involved with creating custom installers for games. While this is largely non-existent with modern ISO releases, Ripped legacy releases used these custom installers quite frequently. Above is an example from Myth’s release of Electronic Art’s Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed.
Each installer was custom made by a skilled programmer and artist. Not only do these include original music, but these installers also have code built in to display a text file called an “NFO” (short for info). These aspects are another touch of artistic flare to a legacy release as well as a key component to being able to use the software you downloaded. NFO files contain key information about the release, how to use it, and information about possible security protection on the CD.
Legacy installers such as this one use a set of spanned 2.88 megabyte files using .ACE compression, similar to the very common WinZIP. Accordingly, the .ACE file format is made by WinACE; this format is highly more compressed than that of WinZIP, and in the year 2000, was the best alternative for compressing files into sets of small files. To be noted are the main forms of compression used in releases. (In Unix-based releases, TAR.GZ or GZIP is used.)
Each type of compression was more and more effective at compressing the large amounts of data of a release in a faster amount of time. In legacy releases, after uncompressing and installing a release, you would also have to run a Setup.BAT (instruction set file), which would launch UHARC, an incredibly compressed set of files that takes a very long time to uncompress, but was better than any other commercial compression available at that time (or even this time, for that matter).
As I said, the NFO is a very stylish, interesting piece of art work used with ASCII/ANSI based editors. In short, you’ll actually need a text reader that will support ASCII/ANSI to view an NFO file like DAMN NFO. While you can use notepad to open these, you just won’t see what you were meant to see (and it’s often quite confusing to locate basic information).
This introduction is then followed by basic game notes and stating the ripped parts:
As you can see, the NFO file is a core piece of information that can’t be skipped if you actually plan on using the software you just downloaded. Specifically in this release, the modern day ripping regulations were decided upon in a very lengthy list detailing ALL of the standards that are still used today. Also notice if you don’t know what type of file you are getting from the name of the file, you can just open the NFO file to see detailed information about the file format, the number of compressed files in the set, the date of release, the groups who contributed to it, the CD protection that the game uses, and the genre of the actual game. There are a lot more facts inside the actual content of the NFO, so I suggest you check out all of the things listed, included news from the release group and other group-specific information. Also, if you get lucky, a group will attack another group about their quality of release or make a huge news brief about a current group event. Because of this, NFO’s cannot be disregarded. If you ever need to find a specific NFO, I suggest you look at iSONEWS, a site which records all of the recent releases and their NFO’s.
c. Will I Get Caught
Right. I know people will still think that regardless. The RIAA and MPAA are corporate entities trying to protect their investments. Hell, they are shady guys themselves. The RIAA was once quoted as saying they are trying to release a virus that will disable a user’s computer if he opens a copyrighted MP3 or WMA (Windows Media Audio) file. Technically, that’s illegal too. (Recently, Sony-BMG released a rootkit device on a CD that would potentially allow hackers to infiltrate users’ PCs.) So, I guess everybody is skirting around the law these days.
In general, no, you’re not going to get caught. I’d reckon it to shoplifting: you could get caught, but it depends on how big of a coat you’re wearing, how big of the item you’re stealing, how skilled you are, and chance. Governments go for the source, as in the release groups. They don’t focus on little peons downloading things. That said, they have and still do arrange special FTP’s to snare hapless victims downloading things. Federally in the US, downloading a copyrighted movie is a 250,000 USD fine with up to five years in prison. However, they go after people reselling media, not the kind downloaded for personal use.
The RIAA and MPAA pose one of the bigger threats: they often track your computer’s IP number (Internet Protocol [internet address]) and then report it to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). In this case, your ISP will temporarily disable your account and you’ll have to make an embarrassing call to the technical support to listen to why your service was cut. Most ISP’s run on a “three strike” form of policy. But, I’d stay low if you actually do get a mark. The MPAA and RIAA sometimes choose to randomly summon people to court in a lawsuit in which their goal is scaring you to settling out of court. Basically, you may settle for around 2,000 to 7,000 USD; in turn, this money helps fund the companies to sue other people. Cruel cycle, no?
Another fun warning you’ll get is in the mail as shown from a 2001 warning letter. Honestly, you should be smart enough to make your own decisions. Theft is theft.
d. My Background
There was much more to this guide, namely finding it, downloading it, and installing it, but this part was probably somewhat illegal and it is completely out of date. None of the sites referenced here works. In fact, these days all you need to do is get Bittorrent and search Google for “Whatever torrent” and you’re set.