The Untouchables - Exclusive Week

By Zachary Schepis

Image courtesy of Michael Chelen.

Disclaimer: BTR does not in any way endorse the use of BitTorrents, Peer-2-Peer file sharing, or any other form of illegal downloading.

Remember the good ole days of Napster? It seems like eons ago, but it’s only been a little over a decade since the mighty forefather of file-sharing networks went under fire from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Some artists took serious offense to fans listening to their music for free and on December 7th, 1999, Napster was hit with a copyright-infringement lawsuit. Though even in the wake of a verdict which would attempt to stamp out free exchange of copyrighted materials, and leave Napster writhing in the cold void of cyberspace, the war was only just beginning.

In a frenzied attempt to save their existence (and wallets), the folks at Napster restructured their site so that users could buy music rather than steal it. But by this point it was too late. The file-sharing community had already moved on, and with Napster left in the dust, new Peer-2-Peer (P2P) networks began cropping up out of the matrix. Sites like LimeWire, Kazaa, and Grokster soon took the helm, allowing users to continue their cost-free downloads where they had left off.

However, downloaders were soon enough hit with yet another roadblock. The RIAA tried suing these new servers, but to their dismay found that the sites were not liable for their users’ activity. But the RIAA would not rest at that, so they took to suing the file-sharing community instead.

Nobody was safe. The budding teenager who just downloaded his first copy of Sgt. Pepper’s turned out to be as equal a target as the guy devouring entire terabytes of illegal music in the comfort of his mother’s basement. Digital pirates everywhere grew fearful. What could be done?

This universal cry spawned the BitTorrent, a program constructed for free P2P downloading. Creators sidestepped piracy laws by storing the files not on individual user computers, where they could be found by the RIAA and accrued to the painful tune of $.99 per song, but rather on torrent websites. The beautiful thing about a website? You can move it anywhere in the world that you want.

And all the pirates of the world breathed a collective, digital sigh of relief.

But enough of the history lesson. Fast-forward to today, and the internet remains just as much of a wild-west of new frontiers that it’s ever been. The present-day internet freedom still holds its risks, however, especially for users looking to torrent their favorite new album without forking over a dime. The FBI is smart, and they can still find you. Recently, sites that have served as torrent hotbeds for years (i.e. Demonoid) have been permanently shut down by the authorities.

Nevertheless, there are some untouchables.

There will always be the elite few, veiled in secrecy, who are savvy to the game and evade high-stakes at every turn. In the online file-sharing world, having a torrent client and access to a public domain like Demonoid simply isn’t good enough. For one, having so many users downloading from the site without taking the time to upload or “seed” (which allows for transfers to occur), many users experienced drastically long wait times, even to download a single album — let alone an entire discography. Convenience? Not so much. Security? Rapidly deteriorating.

Private torrenting sites have thus spawned in the name of exclusivity. Interested? Good luck trying to find one – many of them are close to impossible to track down, unless you have an “in” with the community. Even if you do manage to stumble upon the cyber gates, you might be greeted by an elusive wall, or in the case of, a deterring message like, “this is a mirage.” Either way, if you don’t have a user name or password, you shall not pass.

Whether you’re scrolling through the comprehensive archive of film at PassthePopcorn, or watching a new show on just fifteen minutes after it’s aired on cable, the only way to obtain a profile for most of these exclusive private torrent sites is through an invite-only initiation; meaning someone in the community needs to usher you in by the virtual hand.

Once inside, it’s not a free-for-all, as there are a series of rules you must obey should you wish to remain. These commandments vary from site to site, but there are a few consistent dos and don’ts within the community that are worth noting.

The following is a generalized list of these basic unspoken mandates:

I. Maintain a balanced ratio. Basically, if you want to continue downloading then you’d better be uploading just as much, if not more. This is what allows sites to have such speedy rates of file transfer.

II. Try not to tell others outside of the community about the community. It almost goes without saying, but nonetheless a golden rule for many of these private sites.

III. Don’t post torrent files from invite-only sites on other sites. Sharing is caring… sometimes.

IV. You are responsible for who you invite. Make sure your newly joined friends know the rules, or else it can be the boot.

V. Obey all staff decisions. No matter what. That is, if you wish to remain a member of the site.
These rules can be hard to follow, especially maintaining a proper ratio, but the benefits are immense. Music libraries are incredibly extensive, allowing users to find virtually any well-hidden gem imaginable. Also, on most of these sites only the highest-quality sound files are shared. For instance, a friend of mine recently torrented a Super Audio (SACD) recording of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin On that left the seasoned audiophile’s monitor dripping with drool.

Should you seek these realms, tread lightly. Remember that it is illegal, and no matter how secretive you think you might be, cyber pirates are caught every day. Just as a disheveled young girl once awoke from a storm to find that her and her little dog Toto were not quite where they remembered, we too are subject to find ourselves in a land new, and ungoverned by the laws we once knew.

We’re not using Napster anymore.