In 2010 a fresh movie piracy ‘group’ started to gain traction. Borrowing work from the so-called ‘Scene’, YIFY started to publish dozens of popular movies to popular torrent sites.
Not much later the group launched its own torrent website under their new brand YTS, featuring high quality releases of the latest movies. Hundreds of them, and later thousands.
As the years went by the group amassed a huge following and a year ago its website was generating millions of pageviews per day. A true success story, but one that ended abruptly last October.
Hollywood sources tracked down the founder of YIFY and filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in New Zealand. This case was quickly settled out of court, but it effectively meant the end of YIFY and YTS.
Today, YIFY speaks in public for the first time after the shutdown. He was kind enough to discuss a variety of topics with TorrentFreak, ranging from the early beginnings to YIFY’s demise and beyond.
YIFY tells us that he started uploading torrents for the first time while he was in his late teens, when he was still in school. It started very small, as a hobby, and at the time he couldn’t imagine that it would quickly grow out of proportion.
“Back in early 2010 I was at university doing the first year of my four year computer science degree,” YIFY says.
“It wasn’t really a big deal at the time, just regular uploads on TPB, Demonoid, ET, and 1337x. My friends always knew what I was doing and who I was. At the time it was nothing worth bragging about.”
However, a year later the YIFY tag started to become noticed. New movie releases came out at a regular frequency and were downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people.
“A year in is when friends started to see it as something more, and YIFY started becoming a well-known name on the internet. At no point in time did I try to hide this, if anything I was proud and happy to even brag about it,” he says.
The bragging part is not something that’s common with torrent uploaders, due to the risks involved. However, YIFY was not too concerned about the consequences and made little effort to hide his real identity. He didn’t even bother to use a VPN or other privacy tools.
As time went by more people got involved and in 2014 the group had a dozen “staff” members, including moderators, developers and encoders.
Over the years many people came and went but YIFY always remained in charge.
“There was always only a single person ‘leading’ the project and who ultimately called the shots. After all, it was my baby,” he tells us.
Stealing From The Scene
With the popularity also came controversy. Some people praised YIFY for its video quality and others hated the group for it. Another often heard complaint is that YIFY was “stealing” from the Scene.
Looking back, YIFY doesn’t necessarily disagree with the critique. The quality wasn’t all that good and the group never denied that it used Scene movies for its own releases. YIFY admits that he downloaded movies from groups such as SPARKS, AMIABLE, GECKOS, and used these for his own work.
While YIFY appreciates and respects the work of these Scene groups, he never wanted to be a part of them. He found his own ‘niche’ instead, with an audience of millions of users.
“Technically we were ‘stealing’ from the Scene. I respect what they did and would thank them a bunch in person if I could. However, we never followed any Scene rules and we did not really care to be part of their elitist club either,” he says.
“Ultimately, the way I saw it, the YIFY brand was simply filling another niche. It was no secret that most of our sources were from normal Scene uploaders,” YIFY adds.
YIFY did collaborate with the P2P group PublicHD in the past, and on some occasions they had their own sources, releasing content before the Scene got their hands on it.
“There were occasions, back when PublicHD were active, that we would partner up. PublicHD were not Scene either, but there were multiple occasions that they were able to get disks even sooner than the Scene would, and would upload them to public torrent sites,” YIFY says.
“When this was a thing, I was able to get access to the rips, and the PublicHD guys always waited for me to finish encoding and uploading before they fully seeded their large high quality version. When PublicHD went away so did my source.”
The lawsuit, the end
October last year YIFY and its YTS website disappeared without warning or explanation. The mystery was eventually solved after a few days, when it became apparent that the MPAA was the driving force behind the shutdown.
Not much later we were able to confirm that the group’s founder had signed a private settlement with the movie studios, effectively ending the case. However, details of the deal were never disclosed.
Today YIFY is not going to comment on the settlement or the exact circumstances either, most likely because he is not allowed to do so. The only thing he was able to say on the final days is the following.
“I always in my mind and to my peers said ‘As soon as someone properly asks you to stop, you stop and walk away from it’. This is essentially how it all played out.”
YIFY Fakes and YTS Impostors
Soon after YIFY closed its doors many others jumped in to hijack the brand. Several sites mimicked the look of the defunct YTS site and started to release movies of their own. This includes YTS.ag, a site that remains popular today.
YIFY was not pleased to see these impostors emerge, and initially thought he might have been hacked.
“My initial thoughts was ‘Oh shit, how did they even get this?! was I hacked??’ I was very impressed initially. After a while, and realizing they simply cloned this from the internet-archive Wayback Machine, that magic feeling went away,” he says.
The initial fear later turned into anger, but there was of course little he could do. Still, speaking on the issue today he would advise people to stay away from any of these sites.
“When the fakes started to claim they were the real YIFY rather than saying they were there and wanted to continue as a different entity, I was a little angry. But at the end of the day it was inevitable, and in their defense they did a really good job of what they attempted at, even fooling me at the start.”
“That said, if someone comes up to me and asks about the fakes I tell them to stay away,” YIFY adds.
Hollywood and Piracy
In five years YIFY grew out to become one of Hollywood’s main arch rivals. Today the group doesn’t pose a threat anymore, but its demise didn’t make piracy go away, and according to YIFY it never will.
“Piracy is not going away. Ever. I think that instead of trying the impossible, shutting down torrent sites and the like in an attempt to ‘kill’ piracy, the movie industry should focus on making their offerings irresistible to users and giving them zero excuses for piracy.”
“This will never have a 100% success rate, but its the only way to win the war.”
Making movies widely available in a timely manner and for a decent price is the ultimate solution according to YIFY, who notes that the music industry is far ahead in this respect.
“Look at Spotify for example. Can you imagine yourself (in 2016) at work, wanting to listen to your favorite jam and going to a torrent site and getting it that way? No way. You open Spotify or YouTube and listen; sure you will get ads, but it’s totally worth avoiding going to a torrent site for songs.”
“For the most part, torrenting is inconvenient. It’s a multiple step process and nobody wants to see those crappy Pirate Bay ads while they’re at work. So you use Spotify,” YIFY says.
Movie fans should also have a place where most movies are available for a few dollars per month, but thus far progress has been slow on this front. Netflix in the US, for example, lacks all Oscar best picture winners of this millennium in their library. In addition, they don’t make movies available globally.
“Now, Netflix is definitely getting there, but there are still the geoblock limitations, which make a lot of content inaccessible for a lot of people. That’s not something that most media consumers stand for nowadays, and why would they when the content is freely available elsewhere?
“I understand this is a really tricky situation, but it just needs patience. Netflix and other streaming platforms will eventually have the same victory Spotify did for the music industry, but it will take time and require the full commitment of the industry bodies and decision makers at the forefront of the debate.”
Looking back, YIFY is proud of what he achieved, also from a technical perspective. Towards the end the YTS website had 7 to 8 million pageviews per day, on a pretty tidy setup.
“I am most proud of the technical infrastructure I created. I was able to host a massively busy website on a single back-end server,” YIFY says.
“Experimenting with things like the Cloudflare bypass and having the ability to set up something that was resilient to attacks from the outer internet – that stuff was awesome.”
YIFY was kind enough to give some more information about the infrastructure stack, which was made up of the following:
– Linux (Debian) for all the servers
– Nginx as reverse proxy for the all the front ends
– Mysql (percona fork) for the back-end data-store
– Elasticsearch for search and indexing
– Memcached for caching
– Varnish for full page cache (life saver for API when popcorn time got big)
Aside from the tech part, there was also a social aspect. YIFY made many friends along the way and is sorry that he had to cut his ties so suddenly. After the shutdown, he immediately distanced himself from all YIFY players and legacy users.
However, when he participated in a Reddit AMA today he suddenly realized that there was another social aspect to YIFY, one that he is certainly proud of.
Aside from a barrage of questions, which are well worth reading, there were also numerous comments from people who thanked him for his work. Some of these saw YIFY as one of the few options to access Hollywood films.
“I never really knew that the movies that I uploaded were helping people in need,” YIFY says.
“For example, a person in Iran who otherwise wouldn’t be able to watch movies because of sanctions, or a war veteran in a wheel chair that kept busy by watching the movies, or someone who was dying and was able to find some escape in the movies we uploaded.”
“Seeing that something I have done, moral or not, had such an effect on people is an amazing feeling that I will forever remember,” YIFY concludes.