Last time we did this, we were talking about software. This time, let's talk media. That is movies, music, TV shows, and everything else the copyright lawyers scream about.
Before that, though, let's talk about the ground rules here. You should not pirate things you don't own. But ownership is a murky subject in content these days. Let's say you bought a DVD in 2002, and now your new laptop doesn't have a DVD player. You're screwed—unless you want to buy the same movie, in a different format. Or you can pirate it.
Technically, you're breaking the law. No way around that. But morally? It's harder to say. But this guide isn't here to debate morals. That's on you. This is just a toolbox for how to pirate stuff without getting caught.
This is really about the path of least resistance. And often, that is just using what's available to you. Let's go to the Game of Thrones argument. HBO won't shut up and take your money for HBO Go a la carte. Right. Well, if your dad subscribes, or your Great Aunt Betty who loves her talkies but doesn't work the computer so good, then you can take advantage of their subscription on HBO Go.
All you've got to do is log in with a subscriber's cable service online information. So: call your dad and ask for his password. Problem solved. Same goes for Amazon Prime. If you don't have the service, an account is permitted to cover multiple family members.
For books, there is the little-used Public Library ebook lending option. And also, Project Gutenberg has an expansive collection of free public domain works. Many of the more obscure works aren't in the marketplaces, while some more popular books cost a nominal fee of $0.99 elsewhere.
Now on to the real stuff.
Protect Your Identity
First and foremost, take precautions against being found out. The methods explained in this guide are as safe as they get, but being a little safer is never a waste of time.
We went over using proxies and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) in the software version of the piracy guide, and you should do the same thing here. They're still the digital condoms of the internet, and are surprisingly easy to use.
Additionally, you should never, ever, under any circumstances pirate media on your work network. It should be obvious, but you'd be amazed at how many nitwits get caught plowing through terabytes of downloads by their network administrators.
Finally, if you end up using torrents, you should enable outgoing encryption in your client. That's generally found in Preferences > BitTorrent > Outgoing Encryption. It won't do anything to hide your elevated bandwidth use from your ISP, but you'll at least mask what you're doing. It's like hiding a piano under a rug. They'll know something's going on, but they won't be able to definitively prove what it is.
Use Direct Download
When you think piracy, you probably think of torrents. Rightly so, since they're the most ubiquitious form, but you are still at risk of being targeted in a broad-brush lawsuit, like the Hurt Locker case. Instead, try direct download sites. You know, like Megaupload.
A direct download site is one that let's you download directly from a server—no peer-to-peer involved. And here's the big advantage: The real sin of getting caught torrenting, or Napstering, or whatever else P2P has been called, is not stealing content. It's distributing it. That's how you end up paying hundreds of thousands in damages for a few dozen songs. With direct download, you don't run that particular risk. Kim Dotcom is the one locked up—not his users. That's why they're the safest way to download.
While the Megaupload direct download kingdom is in ruins, or at least tied up in court for a very long time, there are dozens of replacements waiting in the wings. Sites like Mediafire, Rapidshare, DepositFiles, 4Shared, Hotfile, Filehost, File4Sharing, and gazillions of others, offer an even more anonymous means of downloading than torrents.
This also means you have to get used to the parlance of the pages. You almost never want to click the DOWNLOAD HERE buttons. Instead, scroll around for the "Slow Download" button. After that, most sites will have a 30-60-second wait time before you can continue. There will be a Captcha test before or after the wait, and then finally you'll be able to download your file.
Afterward, a lot of places will require free users wait 30-60 minutes to download another file. Thankfully, if you are downloading more than one file, you can simply cycle to different sites. Alternatively, you can cherrypick the no-limit or high-limit sites (Mediafire and Rapidshare are good ones, in the absence of Megaupload), or just pay for a subscription somewhere.
These processes change from site to site, and some sites are just eternal loops of frustration for non-paying users. It's fine to make sure you're not the one screwing up, but know when to cut your losses, too. That's why it's important to know where to get your links.
Find Your Links
Actually finding things to download is pretty much the main skill in knowing how to pirate stuff. But finding links to direct downloads is a lot different from finding torrents. You don't just join a community and use a torrent tracking search engine. It's more of a wild west.
The easiest way to find what you are looking for is to just Google the name of what you are looking for, plus the name of a download site. So, "Action Movie 0001 mediafire" would return pages with links to that movie. Or that episode of a TV show. Or whatever else you're looking for.
Beyond Google, you can use a metasearch site that scans all of the uploads on the direct download sites. FilesTube is a popular one. There, you can just search for your term.
TV shows are generally organized by S#E##. So, episode 12 of season 2 of Game of Thrones, for instance, would be "game of thrones s2e12". (Some releases also have a ## for season.)
Another trick for finding a title that's just a common word is to add the year it was released to your search, instead of something broad, like "movie." So "action 2007" works better than "action movie". Make sense?
This relates to finding links, but more specifically, finding working links. That's necessary because the longer a link is up, the greater the chance that it's been removed for copyright infringement. Imagine that.
Certain types of media are released on specific days. Comic books on Wednesdays, for instance. Albums are on Tuesdays.
The one exception is recently released movies, which are cam versions and take a few weeks to poop out something watchable most of the time.
And if you're running into a brick wall trying to find what you're looking for, well, it probably isn't too common. That's when it's time to hit the message boards. Like private torrent communities, a lot of message boards are locked down. Some require you to participate in their community for a while; some are by reference only. But once you're in, requests, even obscure ones, can usually be fielded.
Download the Right Format
One boon to pirated media today is how easy it is to beam it right to your television. But not every device can play the same formats. Apple TV, for instance, can only take M4A and MOV files. So if you're going to be streaming to one of those, you should look for files that work on whatever you're going to be using. Likewise, if you've only got a 720p TV, or a similar resolution on the monitor you will be using, there's no sense downloading that 1080p file, is there?
If you absolutely can't find the right format, there are free programs—like the beloved Handbrake—that will let you convert the file to what you need. But unless you've got a monster machine, you're going to spend more time encoding the video than you will watching it, and you're probably losing some resolution in the bargain, too.
For larger files, you might encounter multi-part downloads. Most of the time that's going to mean a multi-part RAR file. On OS X, you can compile and uncompress these files with UnRARX. On Windows, you can use the WinZip utility.
Get into a Private Torrent Community
As an alternative to direct download, you can go the private torrent community route. We talked a little bit about closed communities in the software edition, but with media, the communities are a little more specific. Like, say, if you're only interested in movie torrents, you might want to get into a community that specializes in nothing but movies.
Here are the best, by category:
TV Shows: tvtorrents.com
The downside to wonderful content selection and well-seeded torrents is, of course, the need to maintain a good ratio. What does that mean? You've got to upload just as much as you download, or close to it, if you don't want to get kicked out. In addition to stressing your home network while you try to do other stuff, this also increases the chance that your ISP will come knocking. So it's a tradeoff: less work to get your content, but much more work and risk to keep your source running.
It ain't easy to get into these communities, but if you hassle your nerdier friends, you'll probably be able to turn up an invite, or at least a lead on one. And even though one of our rules for general torrenting is "Don't Seed," you better seed your ass off once you're in, or you won't be in there for long.
Books get their own header, here, because they are a little different than the other formats. Why? Well, they are not uploaded with as much aplomb, for one. So while just about every movie ever filmed can be downloaded somewhere, there are no ebook copies of a lot of books. And the ones that are out there are often not up for download. It's true: No one reads anymore. Especially pirates, it seems.
You won't find many books on the direct download sites, but there are tons of torrent packs—every Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction, for example—and the good news is that book files are super light. So, if you want to reproduce every book on your bookshelf on your Kindle, it won't take much time to download them at all, if you can find them. Then you've just got to get them on your reader.
That's the easy part. Calibre is an ebook sorting app that also doubles as a Kindle-cracking hack machine. What makes it so great? It converts any ebook, no matter its format, into formats any ereader can use.
For example, the Kindle is the most locked-down ereader. It only accepts Amazon's proprietary AZW format and MOBI files. Calibre can take an ordinary EPUB file, or even a plain text file, and turn it into a MOBI file that you can load right onto your Kindle.
The Overkill Method
Have you ever heard of Usenet? Maybe in passing, but chances are you've never sunk your teeth into it. Basically, it's a group of decentralized servers that host content. And a lot of it's pirated content.
Here's our explainer on Usenet from a few years ago. It remains a mostly unmonitored, hyperspeed playground with early access to downloads and content. It also remains an esoteric horror show for the average user.
Unlike the other methods, you do have to spend some cash. Clients are free, but access to a service—think subscribing to Rapidshare, only if Rapidshare had access to what was uploaded to every direct download site—that'll cost you. Some have a free trial, while others are just $15 per month, or so. Then you'll also have to track down a service to search through files called NZBs—basically, the index of what's actually out there.
Not that simple, but worth it if you can wrap your head around it.
But Seriously, Don't Be a Dick
Yeah, there are legitimate reasons to download things illegally. But the more common case is just a lazy sense of entitlement. While we support you rising up and saying, "Hey, I already bought this damn movie—three times!" it's pretty dickish to, say, download the entire discography of every indie band you heard about sohpomore year because man did you SEE the girl who put you onto them? You can use Spotify for that. Or at least buy a damn concert ticket afterward.
If we left out your favorite trick, or if you just think we got something wrong, let us know in the discussions below.