In January 2005, perhaps inspired by the previous year’s Operation Fastlink FBI raids, Wired ran a now-famous article titled The Shadow Internet. The article was one of the first attempts to publicly document ‘The Scene’, the shadowy collection of individuals at the top of the so-called ‘piracy pyramid’.
A major contributor to the article was Bruce Forest who described himself as an “elder statesman” in the piracy scene. But Forest had a big secret. While maintaining his identity in the Scene, he was also working for movie companies, informing them of what was happening on the dark side. He claimed he never ratted anyone out but feelings of paranoia were certainly reinforced once everyone saw how easily and publicly security could be compromised.
Paranoia is a somewhat interesting commodity in online piracy circles. No Scene topsite, FTP server, private BitTorrent tracker or Direct Connect hub exists without it. While the atmosphere is more often than not outwardly relaxed, everyone in a position of authority is looking over their shoulder to a certain extent. While things may seem calm, there’s always the possibility that something is going on under the surface, that otherwise trusted people who may not be who they say they are.
While paranoia is a destructive force, it’s paradoxically linked to the excitement that drives pirates on. That element of uncertainty that makes more intensive online piracy so attractive and in some cases, very dangerous. And of widening interest.
Almost too perfectly timed just after the EliteTorrents and yet more Scene busts in 2005, a new Internet-only TV series appeared. ‘Welcome To The Scene” from Jun Group had a cult following and while it was mocked and well-received in equal quantities, it had secrets which fueled paranoia.
One day a long-since-gone post appeared on the NFOrce release site message boards from a guy called Droopus. He was ‘casually’ promoting the new TV series (“Hey guys, look what I just stumbled across”) but ended up arguing with site regulars instead. They maintained he was connected with the show. They were right.
Droopus turned out to be working with Welcome To The Scene’s creators, Jun Group, a company connected with Sony through the show’s producer who worked for the media giant. Indeed, a whole episode of the show was filmed in a Sony-owned building.
Droopus turned out to be none other than the elder statesman himself – Bruce Forest.
Needless to say, once this became known just about every episode of the series was picked over by fans, especially when similarities with the recent FBI busts became apparent. The paranoia was contagious – it was even affecting the show’s viewers – especially when some events in the show seemed to mirror real-life events which didn’t actually happen until after episodes aired.
In the end the entire series was built on paranoia and people looking over their shoulders, with the stars of the show wondering if they could trust their contacts as they went about their business trying to get first run movies onto the web.
Fast forward five years and ‘elite’ online piracy and its inherent paranoia has been committed to celluloid again, this time in the form of a short movie created by John V. Knowles. ‘Shadow.net’ was inspired by the Wired article ‘The Shadow Internet’ and received a number of awards on the festival circuit last year. The story follows Greg McKenna, aka Deckard, and fellow members of a release group known as DMG (Damage).
Tired of being bested by other groups with access to the latest stolen films, Greg jumps at the chance to raise DMG’s rep with a huge score of Marvel’s latest release. Though the other members of DMG are wary of this risky endeavor, Greg reassures them that his source — brought to his attention by his online girlfriend, MOLLY — is reliable, and that they can trust him. But when three men show up at Greg’s door the night of the release, it appears the source was a set-up by the feds…or was it?
Before you enjoy the show which is embedded below (HD version available here), readers might be interested to hear what happened in the Bruce Forest story. Fittingly, it has a very strange ending.
On March 24th 2006 it was reported by WFSB that police seized 12 computers from Forest’s house, although not in connection with online piracy. Forest was arrested for setting off explosives and was held on a $2 million bond.
Strangely, all official reports of his arrest appear to have disappeared from the Internet and when someone claiming to be Forest contacted me several months ago he told me that I shouldn’t believe anything i’ve read about him online. It really seems that you can’t trust anyone these days…..
Enjoy the show……