They sit at the top of the piracy pyramid and inhabit shadowy areas of the internet, hidden behind encrypted connections. Hunted by law enforcement agencies worldwide, they’re the first suppliers of the latest movies, music and software. Getting any members of ‘The Scene’ to break cover is a difficult task, so getting an interview with a member is a rare event.
The history of ‘The Scene’ can be traced back to the 1980′s when enthusiasts set up BBS‘s to facilitate the trading of small pieces of software and documents with other like-minded individuals. As bandwidth became more readily available, the next 20 years saw the availability of ‘Scene’ material explode to encompass full length movies, music, software and games, many made available before their official street dates.
Whether they like it or not (and many members don’t) ‘The Scene’ became the number one unofficial supplier of unauthorized media to the internet, distributed by others via P2P protocols and networks such as BitTorrent and ed2k. This position attracted a lot of unwanted attention from law enforcement and resulted in high profile busts such as those in Operation Fastlink and Operation Buccanner. The existence of ‘The Scene’ was no longer a closed secret, with people even making internet TV shows about it.
In an interview with a Scene releaser (a person who puts the content onto a server called a ‘Topsite‘) we get an insider’s view of The Scene and get some interesting comments about P2P.
The Interview (loosely translated from German)
Q: The scene is regarded of many people as the “Warez Scene”. What is the “scene” for you?
For me the scene is like a competition, the best group has the highest status. The real scene is just a small elite group. Most of the “scene web sites” have nothing to do with the scene. They only try to make as much money as possible, and bring the real sceners in danger.
Q: How did the scene recover after the large busts in the middle of 2005?
The scene does not only go back a few years, it goes back to the 1980′s. What I mean by this is that the scene can be weakened but after a short time it can regain its strength. Old groups go and new ones replace them.
Q: Since then did the competition between the Groups grow or decrease?
As I said, after the busts in 2005 new Groups came. Many disappeared but nevertheless some turned into well-known Groups.. The competition remained about the same.
Q: How does it look with the servers? The servers that were seized at that time, were great machines. What about the 11Tb monster?
These servers stand abroad and with the most wondrous methods to hide them from the law. Some interesting hiding methods circulated before the raids.
Q: To your knowledge, how many people were arrested?
Actually none. Every now and then so-called “szeneNfo” files circulate in which people are warned. That prevents people from getting arrested.
Q: Is the rumor true that a married couple were condemned because they were both group members?
I hear the rumor today for the first time however why should not that not have passed?
Q: Why did the groups start getting attention?
In former times as the releases did not leak onto file-sharing networks, no-one was really interested in us as we were just a few computer enthusiasts exchanging material in a small circle. Since then everything leaks to P2P and the public gets access, so we are hunted [by the authorities]
Q: Are there any measures to prevent releases for leaking?
Briefly after the raids we made some coded releases, there were no leads however.
Thank you. Those were my questions, now come the visitor’s questions.
Q: Joe: Where do the programs and movies come from?
They come to the hands of the Groups in many diverse ways. Either someone buys the things, or maybe they work at the manufacturing company or obtain it from a rental company.
Q: Jackbox: In which countries are you hosted?
Actually in all. But to use a server in countries like Germany or Austria is highly dangerous.
Q: Jackbox: How did you become a member of The Scene?
A good friend invited me as thanks for helping with the group.
Q: Rene: Is there a big chance of being caught?
It all depends how one behaves. Someone who has servers in Germany and sell copies has a bigger chance of getting caught than someone who is more careful, has its server abroad, and doesn’t get involved with people he or she barely knows.
Q: Denis: How do you ensure that the names or data associated with persons involved do not become available, as everyone leaves traces on the internet, even when surfing?
I would leave this gladly unanswered. What I can say however, is that naturally the servers do not have any log files.
Q: Denis: Why would someone be involved in this activity when it is such high risk? Is it money? Power? Fun?
The latter. Money? No. This “power” does not bring me in my material life anything. Thus, it is the fun that makes this “hobby” makes so interesting.
Q: Denis: As a site admin, I am interested in how the servers are secured?
Host the server in a “safe” country abroad, don’t keep any server logs, and make sure the non removable disks are encrypted.
Q: Robert: How is it possible to guarantee that no-one infiltrates the group?
There is no one way to do this, it’s down to experience. One should know each group member over time and work together.
Q: Robert: Is there any software which one could not crack yet?
Clearly. But since I am not active in this area, I cannot give you any information.
Q: Robert: How much traffic do you register on your servers?
It’s naturally different from server to server, but the traffic runs into tens of Terrabytes.
Q: Robert: Is there competition between the different groups and if so, how does this manifest itself?
Clearly there is competition, and everyone wants to be the best and fastest. This is apparent from the NFO files which show that the groups do not greet each other in a particularly nice way.
Q: Robert: What do you think about the claims of the software industry which say they have huge losses from piracy?
Each clear-thinking person will probably believe me that these “losses” are not due to the scene. Just because someone downloads an expensive piece of image editing software it does not mean that the person would have purchased it. But the software industry states that each pirate copy is equal to one lost sale.
Q: Christoph: Why is it not possible to close the holes in the Scene which allow the releases to leak to P2P networks?
Since there are many people in the scene, there are naturally also many leaks. That is probably the largest disadvantage of the scene becoming so large. The releases are uploaded to P2P networks without the consent of the Group.
Q: Christoph: It is clear that the Scene has a hatred for P2P. What do you think about the FXP and invite-only torrent sites?
The FXP scene mostly release only into the P2P nets. These “invite only torrent” sites belong just as little to the scene as other warez sites. They make money with the fact and bring the Groups into danger.
Q: Cyberfreak77: What will happen if one day copy protection is abolished and it is possible to copy content without concern of being punished?
The release groups will still try to be the fastest to release!
Q: Cyberfreak77: Do you think that the content owners quietly realise that illegal copying and file-sharing gives publicity to increase DVD sales?
I do not think this is impossible. If I see a good film then later I will buy it. I download to test the film to see it is worthy of being bought.