Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs

  • Avast, me hearties! There be pirates and bootleggers on the horizon
  • They’ve been robbing honest traders for years but it’s time to make them walk the plank
  • Here’s how ye can steer clear of buying their rip-off wares and swelling their coffers with ill-gotten gains

Pirates, bootlegs, counterfeits, forgeries, fakes… call them what you will, bootleggers and pirateers are a fact of life – always have been and always will be. But they pose a real threat in this age of niche, legitimate, classic film DVD and Blu-ray companies operating on slender profit margins and struggling to simply survive. Modern production methods mean the rip-offs are getting ever harder to spot, so here’s your guide to avoiding spending good money on bad merchandise.

Beware of Pirates sign


Contents


The background to piracy

Bootlegged and pirated products have been profiting greedy thieves for hundreds of years – in fact for as long as the concept of copyright has existed. They come in any recorded format: books, LPs, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, internet files, etc. Though they’re often used interchangeably, there are actually distinctions between the most commonly used terms:

  • Bootlegs are unofficial releases of otherwise unavailable but copyrighted material, eg live recordings, TV and radio broadcasts, etc.
  • Pirates are copies, usually repackaged, of commercially released material and are designed to fool the buying public into mistaking them for official releases. The official versions may sometimes be deleted and attracting high prices secondhand or unreleased at all in certain countries, thus driving up the demand for cheap copies.
  • Counterfeits mimic specific, released products and try to pass themselves off as the real thing. Forgeries would be another word for them. Producers and distributors of these are thieves of the purest stripe and have been around for nearly as long – but are more resilient – than cockroaches.

In practise, these definitions are often blurred, as many copyright thieves’ activities and their products can fit two or more categories, but they generally hold true. The bulk of the world’s fakes hail from places where the relevant laws are lax or practically non-existent; Africa, Asia and South America are among the biggest offenders. Surprisingly, though Spain and Italy are part of the EU, their record on enforcement is pretty abysmal too: copyright infringement is open and rife there.

“If what they’re doing is illegal, why don’t the copyright holders take the pirates to court and shut them down?” I hear you ask. Good question – and often they do. Some companies protect their properties rigorously (Disney defend theirs more zealously than Fáfnir) but it costs a lot of time and money to pursue legal action. For most big companies it’s just not worth it and the smaller companies would love to but don’t have the resources. It makes far better sense for them to focus on investing in new product. Of course, any legal action would also have to be taken out individually under the laws of each pirate’s home country; the same country whose hopelessly inept copyright laws allow them to flourish in the first place. The sheer volume of offenders makes the task of targeting each one practically ineffective, much like music swapping online. After all that, even if someone does successfully sue, the process of collecting damages can be unending, to say nothing of enforcing a recall of discs still on the market.

The situation in Spain and Italy is so widespread and deeply entrenched that legit companies have pretty much given up on trying to police it. Pirates are sold in major high street retailers and are effectively the de facto releases. Sadly, as a result legit companies often completely skip those countries when it comes to official releases, as they know pirate copies will almost inevitably be rushed out and undercut them anyway. Catch 22.

Fáfnir the dragon by Andre Kosslick

Fáfnir doing his best impression of Disney. Art by Andre Kosslick

A line often trotted out in justification by the customers/supporters of bootlegging is that if studios would only get their acts together and release what the public (read: a handful of collectors) want, they’d kill off the market for piracy. That viewpoint is misguided at best and a complete lie at worst. Product that has been officially released, no matter how niche, is what’s most easily accessible to pirates and therefore most likely to be stolen.

Incidentally, much of what’s written here also applies to popular video sharing sites like YouTube. To facilitate the takedown of offending videos, proving ownership is seldom a simple process and it’s always a time consuming one. Regardless, as soon as one upload is successfully removed, two more will pop up to take its place. Many copyright holders simply give up in the end.

Often, especially in the area that we’re concerned with here – early and classic films – the overall potential sales for each title are numbered in the hundreds or very low thousands. On a global scale this is peanuts in terms of revenue; we’re not talking the millions of units shifted by the latest Hobbit Potter and the Jurassic Transformers blockbuster here. So the pirates fly neatly under the radar of the big boys while critically wounding the niche labels we all know and love: your Eurekas, Criterions, Milestones, etc. Ultimately this means less money to fund restorations and new releases.

Supporters of piracy like to paint the offenders as latter-day Robin Hood figures, perpetuating a benign, victimless crime and often helping put obscure works of art back into the hands of a deserving public, where it belongs. None of this is true; in fact the reality is the exact opposite. In any form and on any scale, piracy creates victims on all sides, except for the thieves who actually profit from it. The excellent book, Knockoff: The Deadly Trade in Counterfeit Goods (2005/2007), by Tim Phillips demonstrates this in great detail. Quote: “If counterfeiting was a business, it would be the world’s biggest and twice the size of its nearest competitor.”

To reiterate: these days rip-off product is often unlikely to loudly announce its existence due to cheap looking manufacturing or printing. Affordable and efficient technology allows the pirateers to quickly and cheaply churn out copies of apparent good quality, with high resolution scans of original film promotional artwork easily downloaded for adorning their sleeves. Often within weeks of titles being legitimately released, their forgeries are up for sale en masse and a veneer of respectability is granted by being sold via established outlets like Amazon and eBay.


Public domain companies

There is a fourth (or perhaps equal third) party at play in this arena: those who sell material that is out of copyright and in the public domain (PD). That is to say, works whose copyrights have expired, either because the original rights holders failed to renew them at the appropriate time, or because sufficient time has elapsed since the death of the author or principal creators. The criteria distinguishing PD material can be quite complicated as they often vary from country to country. For instance, all works published in the US prior to January 1, 1923 are PD, but there are some exceptions, such as films that underwent certain restoration or had a copyrighted musical soundtrack added. Unpublished works are under federal copyright for at least the life of the author plus 70 years. Works published with notice of copyright or registered in unpublished form on or after January 1, 1923, and prior to January 1, 1964, had to be renewed during the 28th year of their first term of copyright to maintain copyright for a full 95-year term.

To complicate matters further, very often peddlers of bootlegged and pirated discs will falsely claim that film and TV works are out of copyright when they clearly are not. The early films of Alfred Hitchcock are a particularly egregious example of this. It’s a crude tactic but in most cases it muddies the waters enough for them to continue unhindered. Either way, purveyors of genuinely PD discs are not breaking any laws and they’re often the only way to cheaply acquire otherwise commercially unviable titles. Vast numbers of PD films are available in restored, high quality editions from some of the best labels in the world; they’re the ones you should seek out.  There are also countless bottom-feeding labels who specialise in releasing PD material from any source they can get their hands on. In the US the biggest include the likes of Synergy Ent, Alpha, GoodTimes, Madacy, Mill Creek and VCI, though the latter two have progressively moved towards also selling quality licensed product.

Even here there are some caveats: first and foremost is I’ve yet to find a PD company without a large proportion of copyrighted titles on its books. Even when a particular work actually is PD, the transfer used may very well have been stolen from someone else’s restored print and still be at least morally questionable. Also, the overall quality of PD releases can be variable at best, as their producers most often do not spend money on obtaining rare prints, expensive restorations, extra features, etc. This can lead to disgruntled customers shelling out for discs whose audio and video quality fall way below their expectations. Another downside to PD companies’ activities is that an already limited market for a title that is flooded with el cheapo copies can effectively kill the demand for a high quality restored edition. Here are some screenshots of PD DVDs versus restored, good quality ones. Of course, when the restored releases themselves get pirated, it’s in much lower quality than the original and they’re overwhelmingly likely to be shorn of any extra features. Basically, the line between PD companies and outright pirates is often a very blurry one indeed.


How to spot the fakes

Pirated discs often conform to the following:

  • There are usually no proper, up-to-date studio logos or copyright credits anywhere on the discs or sleeves. Comparing them to similar releases from other countries will give an indication of what they should show. Note that for some semblance of credibility, occasionally rear sleeves will have the name or logo of the original studio that made the film. Such info is easily found via the likes of Wikipedia, IMDb or in the films’ credits, and for works upwards of a century old that may have changed ownership many times, often doesn’t bear any relation to the current rights holders.
  • Pirate companies generally have a lack of any credible internet presence, with no websites (or cheap-looking, barely functional ones), social media accounts or online stores. They’re often, for all intents and purposes, incommunicado.
  • Outside of their native countries, pirated discs are shifted chiefly via online stores like Amazon and eBay – both of which do virtually nothing to stop them.
  • Many titles are from studios not normally known for licensing to other labels or at the very least, have never previously appeared on another label.
  • European pirates in particular are often issued on recordable BD-Rs or DVD-Rs, as opposed to proper, factory-pressed discs.
  • Audio and video on a single disc can be ripped from multiple sources, but pirate companies never release anything hitherto publicly unavailable.
  • Pirate copies very rarely contain any extras but when they do it’s even rarer they’ll consist of anything substantial or commercially unavailable.
  • When a pirate Blu-ray is released of a film that cannot be bought physically in HD, there’s no guarantee as to the quality of its transfer: many actually contain rips of VHS videos or TV broadcasts. You’d be amazed at how many Blu-rays (and DVDs, obviously) are lifted directly from YouTube – really! Rubbish in, rubbish out. Usually though, the source will be an upscaled DVD, obviously with zero improvement in quality. Occasionally, alternative sources may be a downloaded HD TV broadcast or rip from a legitimate online streaming service, such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Such is the case with a Spanish Blu-ray featuring a 720p HD TV rip of Ryan’s Daughter (1970). If you’re that desperate to get hold of it you may as well cut out the middleman and download it yourself. Or on second thoughts, don’t.
  • Pirate discs are almost always single-layered, compressing the original files to a lower quality, and any Blu-rays will usually have lossy, space-saving Dolby Digital audio. The official releases they’re copied from will most often be dual-layered, where necessary, and almost invariably have lossless, full quality PCM, DTS-HD MA or Dolby TrueHD audio.
  • Most pirates forego region coding, though their sleeves may sometimes spuriously claim otherwise, and DVDs are usually in the NTSC format, which is playable anywhere. This enables them to be pushed to the broadest market possible. Even when DVDs are actually in the PAL format, very often they’ll be copied from an NTSC source: DVDs, VHS tapes and TV broadcasts. As no dedicated PAL master is used, this results in NTSC-PAL artefacting (note 3).

Most of the above also applies to bootlegs and the last two points in particular also apply to budget PD releases.

It’s also worth noting that French, Spanish and Italian pirates typically add dubs of their own languages to foreign films, usually those made in English. Said dubs are lifted from VHS videos, TV broadcasts, or the internet and will often have originally been recorded to conform to an edited version of the film. That being the case, the transfer used for the pirate copy will also be edited to fit the added soundtrack.

If an eBay dealer suddenly has seemingly unlimited quantities of a formerly officially released but now-deleted and expensive title, it’s well worth checking before you bite on any too-good-to-be-true bargains. If it isn’t being sold by anyone else, chances are it’s a fake. One dead giveaway is if you check their recently sold listings and they’ve already shifted several ‘new’ copies, all with the exact same photo. Now, unless there are a whole bunch of lucky guys with unopened boxfuls of rare, deleted DVDs, you can bet your life they’re bootleggers.


US and European pirate labels

This list can never be exhaustive: many of the distributor, label and sub-label names listed on sleeves are meaningless. They’re seemingly conjured out of thin air and are swapped around at random. On the rare occasions that pirates are successfully sued they simply declare themselves bankrupt, dissolve the company and start up again under a different name. Though those below are among the worst offenders and crop up regularly, the best way to avoid counterfeits altogether is to follow the checklist above. As with the PD companies, occasionally pirates muddy the waters by also selling what, to all intents and purposes, appears to be offically licensed product. Make no mistake though: the vast majority of labels on this list are 100% thieves. Even of the very few ‘better’ ones, I guarantee that a significant percentage of their inventory is still ripped off. Again, this seems more common with older titles, as it’s easier for them to be palmed off as being PD.

France

  • Aventi
  • Bach Films
  • Collection Ciné-Club – affiliated with FSF
  • Ermitage Cinema – see Italy listing
  • Films sans Frontières (FSF) – see below
  • Harmonia Mundi – affiliated with FSF
  • RDM Video (RDMV) aka RDM Edition and Inconnu
  • Votre marque

Italy

  • A&R Productions
  • Artist First Digital – affiliated with Quadrifoglio
  • CG Entertainment/CG Home Video – distributors affiliated with Ermitage, Sinister Film and others
  • Cinema International Media – affiliated with Llamentol
  • Cineteca
  • Cult Media
  • CVC
  • Dania Film
  • DNA
  • Eagle Pictures Spa
  • Enjoy Movies – affiliated with Punto Zero Film
  • Ermitage Cinema – based in both Milan and Paris; also trade as Dcult and Dynit
  • Golem Video
  • Griffe
  • Mosaico Media
  • Mya Communication – closed down and currently trading as One 7 Movies, with all releases in both Italy and US; run by Salvatore Alongi and Marcello Rossi who left their former otherwise legitimate company, NoShame/No Shame Films, in 2007 after getting it in legal trouble for using unlicensed transfers[1]
  • Passworld
  • Penny Video – DVDs often omit original audio
  • Pulp Video
  • Punto Zero Film
  • Quadrifoglio – also trade as Digital Studio, Cine Storm and Stormovie
  • Sinister Film – no relation to  Sinister Cinema (US), a so-called ‘public domain’ label who also sell bootlegs
  • Studio 4K
  • Terminal Video Italia – distributors affiliated with many pirate labels

 Spain

  • Absolute Distribution – aka L’Atelier 13, Bang Bang Movies, Carousel Films, Side Street, War & West Movies, etc. Affiliated with Paycom
  • Art House Media/Paycom Multimedia – Llamentol
  • Centipede Films
  • CincoDías
  • Cinecom
  • Creative Films
  • Feel Films – affiliated with Resen
  • Filmax
  • IDA Films
  • LaCasaDelCineParaTodos.com
  • Layons Multimedia
  • Llamentol – affiliated with Mapetac: both have almost-neighbouring registered addresses, in Vilassar de Mar and de Dalt, Barcelona
  • Manga Films
  • Mapetac – affiliated with Resen; sub-labels: Bestseller Entertainment, BƐTa, BioMovies, CineClub Channel, Cinema International Media, CineStudio, ClassicMedia, dhx, 5 TeleCinco, premium cine/vídeo, RHI Entertainment and Track Media
  • Memory Screen
  • Mon Inter Comerz – affiliated with Llamentol
  • Nacadih Video
  • New Line Films – not to be confused with New Line Home Video/Entertainment
  • No Limits Films
  • Paycom Multimedia – affiliated with Llamentol
  • Producciones JRB – affiliated with Layons Multimedia
  • Regasa Clau Promocions S.L./SL
  • Regasa Films
  • Regia Films – given to making empty threats against those who question their legality
  • Resen (Research Entertainment)
  • SatanMedia – Llamentol
  • Seleccion Classicos de Oro
  • Sotelysa – aka Sogemedia
  • Suevia Films – affiliated with Resen; unrelated to the 1940–1983 Spanish film studio of the same name
  • Tema Distribuciones
  • Vértice Cine
  • Yowu Entertainment

UK

  • Giallo Goblin
  • ZDDvisualmedia aka ZDDVM

US

  • AFA Entertainment – run by Adeeb Barsoum, who specialises in releasing DVDs of cropped and stretched 4:3 aspect ratio films to fill 16:9 AR widescreen TVs
  • Bruce’s Bijou
  • Catcom Home Video
  • Cheezy Flicks – subjected to numerous lawsuits for copyright theft, eg they made a fortune for bootlegging just one title, then claimed to be bankrupt – but are still thieving!
  • Cinema de Bizarre
  • Cult Action
  • Desert Island Films – aka MovieZyng; streaming and DVD-R
  • dvdcoming.com
  • Echelon Studios – US-based digital pirates specialising in stolen uploads to streaming sites, eg UK Amazon Video
  • Harpodeon
  • Hollywood’s Attic – acquired by Nostalgia Family Video in 2004
  • Loving the Classics
  • Miracle Pictures
  • Mya Communication, One 7 Movies – see Italy listing
  • Nostalgia Family Video – HomeTheaterForum post
  • OnesMedia
  • Passport Video – David Shepard: “The owner of Passport is a sociopath named Dante J. Pugliese
  • Reel Vault
  • Silent Hall of Fame – aka Alex Staykov, a liar and scam artist who sells very expensive DVD-R rips of legit releases. Banned from many online silent film communities where he peddles his wares, like here and here. Also sells on Amazon as “Classic Silent Film Gems” and eBay as “yorkmba99”.
  • Televista – formerly known as Substance, New Star, Morningstar and Jef Films; all run by Jeffrey H. Aikman, whose speciality is copying old, copyrighted VHS tapes to DVD. Not to be confused with Televisa
  • Trash Palace
  • VHS Preservation Society – same M.O. as Televista
  • Vina Distributor/Distribution
  • Vintage Film Buff
  • Wham! USA
  • Zeus DVDs – formerly known as Jubilee DVDs, Queensbury DVDs and Xerxes DVDs

In Spain, Research Entertainment are foremost among the most prolific bootleggers – to the extent that “Resen” is Spanish slang for a pirate or bootleg.

Incidentally, it’s generally much safer to buy UK-originated releases with near-impunity: While there are numerous ‘smaller’ volume DVD-R-only sellers everywhere, I’m unaware of any large scale pirating or bootlegging operations based in this country. Though to a lesser degree, the situation is also quite similar in Germany, which makes two of the five biggest film markets in the EU. Most strange when you consider that the other three, France, Italy and Spain, are absolutely rife with them. Most EU nations are assiduous about enforcing copyright laws and at some point I’d like to investigate the exact reason for the disparity. If anyone can shed any light on this, please get in touch.

[1] When initially researching this article I was informed NoShame had bootlegs on their books. NoShame founder/owner Michele De Angelis has since clarified matters and the entry has been amended accordingly.


Pirate TV and cinema distribution

The really organised companies and individuals affect legitimate businesses more profoundly than you could ever imagine. As well as the de facto discs in many countries, they illegally distribute TV and theatrical releases, and litter unwitting but otherwise legal VOD (video on demand) sites. And all from stolen prints and copies. Feel Films, La Casa Del Cine, Llamentol and Films sans Frontières in particular are old hands at this. The owner of the latter company, Galeshka Moravioff, even set up his own chain of cinemas to help facilitate his industrial scale piracy; more about him later. These too were run using his usual underhanded tactics of threats and intimidation but eventually closed down anyway, as you can read here, here and here. He and his ilk often even have the nerve to use legal means to suppress legitimate distribution. For instance, they’ll get their lawyers to fire off a quick warning to TV stations intending to broadcast certain films, claiming that they, the thieves, actually own the rights and not the official distributors. It usually has the intended effect of causing the TV stations to back away from broadcasting any disputed material completely, until the ‘competing’ distributors settle their differences.

Of course, these frivolous legal claims never actually go anywhere, but kosher companies are again financially wounded, both by being unable to earn money on their own properties and by wasting huge sums on legal fees. Of course, they’re competing on a very uneven playing field: those who have spent a lifetime lying and stealing to get what they want are far more practised in the ways of deception than decent, hard-working folk trying to earn an honest living.


Digital piracy

Though the focus here is on piracy of physical media, as those formats continue to cede popularity to online platforms, digital pirates are increasingly becoming the norm. Amazon Video and other ostensibly legit streaming and download sites are also infested with illegal uploads from many of the companies listed above. The latest individual to come to light (March 2017) is Guido Baechler, founder and director of the obscure Lucerne International/Independent Film Festival (he can’t seem to make his mind up). For years, in a manner closely mirroring Maravioff’s, this unscrupulous individual has been openly selling digital copies of films that have screened at his festival. In a perverse move, he’s misappropriated copyright laws to steal from the very rights holders they were designed to protect. To really add insult to injury, he’s even been crediting himself as a producer on many of said films. Read this exposé:

In the interest of fairness, you can read his lengthy rebuttal of the IndieWire article’s claims, but his arguments are as leaky as a sieve. The world is full of liars and thieves and ’twas ever thus, but the likes of Maravioff and Baechler have elevated their odious activities to a brazen art form.

February 2018 update: Baechler’s scam festival now seems to have died a complete death – bloody good riddance.


Witnesses for the prosecution: victim testimonies

Film Preservation associates’ David Shepard, also Blackhawk Films library owner, has spent over four decades restoring many of the most significant silent and early sound films in existence. Following the initial publication of this article, he and I exchanged several emails. Much of his work has been subjected to pirating and I asked him which companies were the worst offenders. Here are some replies, edited for legal reasons:

“Thanks; I just read your article and agree with everything in it.  I’m happy someone cares.

In Italy, it’s [label redacted], and they sell in the USA through Amazon!  In France, [redacted] is a principal offender. In the USA, [redacted] and [redacted] are major offenders.  Lots of stuff out of Korea and China – look at eBay.

What all these people know, and they are correct, is that the commercial market for the kinds of films I prepare is so marginal that the income cannot possibly justify the cost of a lawsuit, so they can infringe with impunity.  Further, I am, as the French say, of a certain age, and do not choose to spend my remaining time in disputes, which would not be fun.  So I don’t keep track or worry about it.

My partners at Lobster Films did get an Italian lawyer and they have sued [redacted].  I don’t know whether it has been resolved, only that I keep having to come up with more and more documentation to prove that they have stolen our work.  Ugh.”

He subsequently wrote:

“I checked with Lobster on the lawsuit against [redacted]. It is still going on.  However, they have now apparently eviscerated their company, changed its name, and started over, so when we win it will be like shaving an egg.” – August 2015

Nick Redman, Twilight Time label owner, confirmed via email that Spanish Resen’s Mysterious Island (1961) Blu-ray was an unauthorised copy of his company’s release. He also said:

“…every Resen release of a TT title is an unequivocal bootleg – piracy is absolutely pandemic and the studios are really powerless to police it or stop it. The fault lies also with collectors who support the bootlegs and the companies that produce them, and in so doing contribute to the downfall of the hobby they profess to love.” – September 2015

George Feltenstein, Warner Bros.’ Senior Vice President of Theatrical Catalog Marketing, and a noted film historian and producer, also agrees with my findings.  He referenced this article in an email to film critic Glenn Erickson., who republished it on his DVD Savant site:

“You should warn the person who wrote you that the ‘Gun Crazy’ Blu from Spain is most definitely pirated. You may want to point out this Brenton Film article to the person who wrote to you as well as share it with Savant readers as it is a big problem: Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs.” – September 2015

Bob Furmanek, 3-D Film Archive founder, historian and producer, has seen his hard work ripped-off:

“From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, I sought out 35mm elements on four features: Abbott and Costello’s Africa Screams (1949) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), plus Bela Lugosi’s The Devil Bat (1940) and Scared to Death (1947). All four had previously only been seen in multi-generation, low quality 16mm dupes which looked terrible on home video. The two Cinecolor films in particular, Scared and Jack, looked very bad with their original vibrant (and unique) palette totally washed out.

I searched globally and devoted a great deal of energy and resources to find them. I did the work on my own time and paid out of pocket to master all four titles from original 35mm elements. Soon after they were released on laser disc, the public domain distributors began selling copies of my restorations without giving me proper credit or payment.

I didn’t do the work for either credit or profit, I did it to present the films in the best possible versions. Nevertheless, it’s very frustrating when someone steals your work (and in at least one case, took credit for it as their own restoration[2] – that really stung) and makes money off it to boot. Needless to say, it was all very disappointing and discouraged me from ever again spending my own time and monies to restore a public domain film.” – June 2017

Bob’s authorised, licensed transfers were originally released on LaserDisc:

More recently came the following:

There are now dozens of DVDs and Blu-rays of all four titles available worldwide, including a 2001 Roan Group DVD of the Abbott and Costello films and 2015 Film Detective [2] “Restored Classics” DVDs of all four. They’re all lifted directly from Bob’s efforts, with most being shoddy copies (of copies) of the LaserDiscs.

Renowned film restorer Torsten Kaiser, of TLEFilms, weighed in on a heated Blu-ray.com forum thread (posts 196, 221, 230). He confirmed that Italy’s Studio 4K had ripped off his own restoration of M (1931) from the Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray:

“The Italian (bootleg) BD, however, was made based on a rip of the (earlier issued) Eureka/MoC Blu-ray disc released in the U.K. early 2010, with the credits of the 2001 photochemical restoration cut off.” – April 2014

M (1931) Eureka-Masters of Cinema UK Blu-ray front

M (1931) Eureka/Masters of Cinema UK Blu-ray – the real deal

M (1931) Eureka-Masters of Cinema UK Blu-ray rear

M (1931) Eureka-Masters of Cinema UK Blu-ray rear. Region coding: check. Lossless, high quality audio: check. Numerous extra features: check. Etc.

M (1931) Films sans Frontières French pirate Blu-ray front

M (1931) Films sans Frontières French pirate Blu-ray – as fake as they come

M (1931) Films sans Frontières French pirate Blu-ray rear

M (1931) Films sans Frontières French pirate Blu-ray rear. As well as a lack of lossless audio and extra features, note the absence of region coding and proper studio, copyright or restoration credits.


Witnesses for the defence: pirates on the attack!

Since this article was first published, I’ve been contacted and threatened by some of the companies listed above. Here is the first such exchange, reproduced verbatim:

From:info@films-sans-frontieres.frSent: 22 September 2015 16:30 To: Brenton Film Cc: Laurent Maupas <video@films-sans-frontieres.fr> Subject: Your pirate List

Sir,

I understand that our company is on a list of so called pirates .Before we take action against you for diffamation and prejudice.we would ask you to remove our name, from your web site.

regards

The management of FSF

FILMS SANS FRONTIERES, 70 BOULEVARD DE SEBASTOPOL, PARIS 75003, +33142772184, +33142774266 FAX, +33609492509 CELL, www.films-sans-frontieres.fr

Ce message électronique et toutes les pièces jointes sont confidentiels ou protégées légalement et destinés à l’utilisateur habituel de l’adresse e-mail à laquelle ils ont été adressés. Personne d’autre n’est autorisé à lire ce message, le dupliquer, le modifier ou le communiquer à un tiers quelconque.( Sans autorisation de l’émetteur )

This message and any attachments are confidential or legally protected and intended solely for the addressees. No one else than the addresses may copy or forward all of any of it in any form.( without being authorized by the sender )


Le 24 sept. 2015 à 09:36, Brenton Film a écrit :

Dear “The management of FSF”,

I was acting in good faith when adding you to that list, based on a copyright owner informing me that several of their transfers had been copied by you and are being sold without permission or due fees being paid. Before I remove your name, perhaps you can explain why I can’t find any copyright credits or similar information on any of your releases, other than to yourselves? If your transfers are officially licensed why don’t you credit their source? For example, your DVD and Blu-ray of M claim to be restored, so whose restoration are you using? Likewise, your L’Intégrale Eisenstein contains films whose restored versions belong to several different copyright holders; how come your company is absolutely unique in being able to combine them all in one box?

I could go on: why can’t I find a single one of your releases with region coding, so often a prerequisite to licensing particular films? Why do they all appear to be single-layer discs, with no extra features whatsoever? And so on. I look forward to receiving proof from you that you are trading 100% legitimately, when so many others are not, and will then be happy to remove your name immediately.

Regards

Brent Reid


From:info@films-sans-frontieres.frSent: 24 September 2015 08:46 To: Brenton Film Subject: Re: Your pirate List

Thanks for your reply, can you send us  your  postal address will reply to you officially by post on our letterhead

regards

The Management


Le 24 sept. 2015 à 10:25, Brenton Film <info@brentonfilm.com> a écrit :

No. Email is fine.


From:info@films-sans-frontieres.frSent: 24 September 2015 09:30 To: Brenton Film Subject: Re: Your pirate List

scared !!!!!

we’ll found out meanwhile we give you 48 hours to remove  your article, if not our lawyer in London will send you a letter.

regards


Le 24 sept. 15 à 11:46, Brenton Film a écrit :

Scared? Hardly. Care to give me your personal address? No, I thought not.

You haven’t answered any of my simple questions and are instead resorting to pathetic intimidation. If you persist in this course of action I will go out of my way to publicise your methods, including publishing all your emails online.


From:info@films-sans-frontieres.frSent: 24 September 2015 10:51 To: Brenton Film Subject: Re: Your pirate List

Ok will proceed, you’ll receive a letter from our lawyer in Nottingham…..

cheers


Le 24 sept. 24 à 12:08, Brenton Film a écrit :

 :o)


Le 12 oct. 15 à 18:17, Brenton Film a écrit :

Hello!

I’m still waiting to hear from your lawyers in London – or was it Nottingham? You seemed somewhat confused.

You’re now a featured contributor to my updated pirate article; perhaps you have some more comments for me to include?

Regards

Brent Reid


From:info@films-sans-frontieres.frSent: 12 October 2015 17:27 To: Brenton Film Subject: Re: Your pirate List

Brenton law will send you a notice

cheers


Le 12 oct. 15 à 18:54, Brenton Film a écrit :

Excellent: I look forward to it. Don’t disappoint me – I’d hate for my readers to think you’re only making empty threats!  ;o)


Needless to say, that was the last I heard. Films sans Frontières is owned by self styled ‘musician’ Galeshka Moravioff, almost certainly the author of the emails. Originally from Switzerland, his real surname is Dupont (If you know his real first name, get in touch!). He has a long history of releasing pirated product and threatening people with groundless or non-existent lawsuits. According to his site’s Filmographie page he has replaced the scores of many of his pirated silent films with his own ersatz scores. Indeed, as of the time of writing (October 2015) he is preparing to release an uncredited rip-off of either of the recent restored BFI or Flicker Alley Blu-rays of Man with a Movie Camera (1929), again containing his own replacement score. If you’d like to know exactly who his partners in crime are, there’s a rogues’ gallery at the bottom of this page.

Galeshka Moravioff, owner of pirate DVD label Films sans Frontières

Galeshka Moravioff, surprise star of this article and unscrupulous owner of Films sans Frontières


A bit of fun

Many who have watched an old UK VHS video or early DVD will have not-so-fond memories of FACT‘s annoying, usually-unskippable anti piracy ads. Of course, their misguided placement only targeted viewers who had already paid for a legit copy; any pirate worth their (sea) salt would simply remove such ads from their product. Particularly notable are this one and this classic:

In a case of supreme irony, the ad’s music was unlicensed – pirated, if you will – and the artist successfully sued for unpaid royalties! You couldn’t make it up. What is made up is UK TV show The IT Crowd‘s clever spoofing of the above ad:


Bootlegging, Amazon and eBay in the news

March 2016: Shout! Factory are a leading – and rather brilliant – US label who specialise in issuing rare and cult films and TV programmes. A recent article on their site discusses the widespread pirating of their product and mirrors many of the points I’ve made above.

“The problem with eBay is that bootleggers can easily create a new account if they get shut down. We try to take down as many as we can, but if they are determined, they can continue as long as people keep buying them. Today, every box set we’ve released is available in bootleg form from at least half a dozen sellers on eBay.” – Shout! Factory article author Michael Kmet via email, 23.3.16

April 2016: MPI Home Video in the US were also forced to publish a guide to spotting fakes of their product: How to tell if your Dark Shadows disc is a counterfeit.

July 2016: Birkenstock CEO Accuses Amazon of “Modern Day Piracy”

October 2016How Amazon counterfeits put this man’s business on brink of collapse

November 2016: Amazon takes counterfeit sellers to court for first time
I had high hopes when I first saw this headline, a follow-up to the previous one, but it looks like a mere token effort, a public relations exercise to offset criticism like that laid out in this article. For the foreseeable future, the world’s biggest purveyor of illicit goods – and especially copies of classic films – will continue to reap the profits of crime.

January 2018The EU is Working on Its Own Piracy Watch-List
Though the focus is more on internet piracy than physical media, at least someone’s making the right noises. Let’s hope something comes of it.


Conclusion

In summary, what we’re talking about here is not the ripping off of the latest big budget blockbusters that would scarcely make a dent in the mainstream studios’ vast profits. Instead, this is mostly about relatively small labels, owned and run by people for whom classic film restoration and distribution is first and foremost a labour of love. Their already slim profits get eaten into while you, the customer, pay for substandard products when far better quality originals are available. Protect yourself: buy wisely and help support future film restoration and preservation.

A very honourable mention must go to the likes of the Spanish labels Divisa and Impulso Records. Spain is the European capital of piracy and they’re fighting a very lonely battle to get properly-licensed, high quality domestic releases of early and classic films onto the market. I urge you to support them by buying their products whenever possible. Victims of piracy can seek help from these crusading organisations:

As ever, DVDCompare.net remains one of the best resources on the internet for checking the specs and legitimacy of all Blu-rays and DVDs. I’ll keep this post updated with any new info; feel free to contribute in the comments below or via Brenton Film email address.


October 2016: Since it was first published, this article has provoked a lot of discussion on the subject. That was partly my intention, as no one appeared to have specifically covered it before. I’m still being contacted almost weekly by the pirates themselves, their victims, and even uninformed companies who were about to sign big contracts with certain pirates but as a result of being shown this article did more research into them and backed off. The latter is particularly satisfying.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

26 Comments

  1. Bernard
    August 25, 16:46 Reply
    Hi, thank you for a great article. First time here. I have one question, regarding the final example (Fritz Lang's "M") : Is the 4K BD a pirate version of Eureka!'s work, if we consider that "M" (1931) is in the public domain? (assuming no extra content / commentary still under copyright is included in the 4K BD) The strange thing IMO is that restoration strives to make the blu-ray as faithful to the original as possible, therefore not creating a new piece of art, i.e. not starting again the clock of copyright protection! If the 4K version is not piracy, I think there should be introduced in legal systems worlwide a provision to protect restoration of films, granting , say, 10 years protection against unauthorized copy.
    • Brent Reid
      August 27, 17:59 Reply
      Hi Bernard, the Studio 4K BD is definitely a pirate, as are all their releases. Unusually for a pirate, it also appears to include Eureka’s copyrighted extras. You raise an interesting point, re copyrighting restored public domain works, but that’s a separate issue, outside the scope of this article and one I've discussed elsewhere on this site. Studio 4K currently have around 50 pirated BDs for sale; just the European pirates collectively have thousands of ripped-off titles. The overwhelming majority of these are studio-owned, non-public domain works and the pirates are not benevolently reproducing and distributing cultural artifacts for the good of the people. They’re working for private profit, thieving from the work of others that they know are both soft and lucrative targets.
  2. Bruce Calvert
    October 14, 18:45 Reply
    Excellent article Brent. Although David Shepard did not have the resources to go after Passport Video for pirating his restorations, they made the mistake of pirating some Elvis Presley films. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1173854.html
  3. Spencer Gorman
    February 27, 12:42 Reply
    There is an obvious way to curtail pirating. In a time where the big companies have moved to digital copies they have done so for a reason, and companies like Disney have resorted to Disney rewards, those coupons packaged inside a product that can be redeemed by the consumer for points...this is the direction of security for the 'majors' ....the smaller production of as you say 'labor of love' projects should learn something from all of this. If no digital copy or reward point is enclosed the product is FAKE...Even a labor of love film should have a way to provide a digital copy online...that is not an expensive proposition and if you do not want bootleggers at your door then one needs to take precautions that help prevent them from stealing from you and without these digital copies and or rewards in their products it becomes much more actionable when they are caught. The bigger issue is that the buying public needs to be taught what is and us not 'authentic'.
    • Brent Reid
      February 29, 21:12 Reply
      Hmm... but Spencer, Disney are one of the biggest, richest entertainment companies in the world. Very few can do what they do, on any level. I simply don't think what you suggest is practical or would work, both before or after the act of piracy. The most effective way to stem – <em>not stop</em> – the thieving is to educate those that care about not ripping off legit goods, so they'll stop buying them. That's something I've attempted to do with this article.
  4. Lea S.
    March 13, 16:17 Reply
    What a fantastic, immensely useful article, packed with all the detail you could need! Thank you. There's so much confusion out there about the issues of public domain, bootlegging, the copyrights on different restorations, etc. All this talk of the piracy problem reminds me of the old-time solution to rival studios stealing films--studios would set a copy of their logo somewhere on the actual set. You see the little "AB" often in Biograph films, usually sitting on a shelf or some wainscoting.
    • Brent Reid
      March 19, 09:51 Reply
      Thank you for your kind words, Lea. I'm pleased you find it useful. Sadly, these days logo planting’s modern equivalent, watermarking, does little to stop the pirates: if they can’t source ‘clean’ copies they steal anyway. Its intrusiveness on the image has also proved very unpopular with buyers of kosher releases – and they do have a point.
  5. Richard Perl
    March 20, 18:36 Reply
    I've always thought No Shame were a legitimate company - many of their releases, both from their defunct US arm and Italian are exclusive to them, with proper aspect ratio and technical specs and evidence of restoration/remastering. In addition, their dvds often include their own custom-made extras. Are you confusing them with Mya Communications, run by some former No Shame employees, who have released many dubiously sourced discs in the US?
    • Brent Reid
      March 22, 13:10 Reply
      Hi Richard, NoShame are just as you describe, but a long time ago they inadvertently released some suspect titles, due to the shady activities of a couple of ex-partners in the business. The article has now been amended to reflect new info supplied to me.
  6. Richard
    September 10, 19:32 Reply
    Hi, do the German company KSM make good quality dvd's? I want the Clark Gable film Call of the wild which should be on 20th century fox, but the German dvd is on KSM. I've never heard of KSM so wanted to know if they're OK. Thanks.
    • Brent Reid
      September 12, 23:25 Reply
      Hi Richard, as I said in the article, UK and German releases are generally fine. KSM are a reputable company who sell officially licensed studio product. If you check them out according to the criteria above, you'll see they have a large, professionally-produced <a href="http://www.ksmfilm.de/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">website</a> with full contact details and a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/KSMGmbH" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Facebook page</a>, so they're hardly underground. I hope you enjoy your DVD!
  7. Julian
    November 03, 07:48 Reply
    In your latest update you wrote that companies backed away from signing contracts with certain so called pirate distributors - was this about sub-licensing? Because I think some of them are trying to go legit, for example in Spain, where they seem to have established in niche markets. There are even exclusive stores.
    • Brent Reid
      November 03, 19:08 Reply
      Hi Julian, said companies backed away from longstanding pirates who clearly have no wish "to go legit". To avoid muddying the waters with speculation and hearsay, can you supply examples and evidence of your claims please?
      • Julian
        November 03, 23:00 Reply
        Right now I'm on vacation in Spain, and I stumbled upon this topic because I was shopping in a movie store.with quite a good selection. I also talked with an employee and he told me about the business model and they actually sell Major Studio editions. <a href="http://www.diversionyocio.es/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">www.diversionyocio.es</a> - Can't copy link here.
        • Brent Reid
          November 06, 21:30 Reply
          You're arguing the very point I made: that pirates are sold openly in high street stores – and you're supporting it. Following your link, all but a handful of the companies whose wares they sell are pirates, as listed above.
  8. Cory
    November 23, 03:52 Reply
    Are you sure about Cult Media in Italy? They have a lot of releases that are unique to them, not on BD in any other country, so I'm not sure where they'd be stealing from. They do mention the rights holders' on the backs of their cases as well. I'd welcome evidence one way or another to know for sure.
    • Brent Reid
      October 28, 06:45 Reply
      Yes I'm quite sure, Cory, and have had it confirmed from several different sources. Releasing a film otherwise unavailable on BD is no guarantee it's actually in HD or not stolen from elsewhere. It's all in the article.
  9. Stevie
    April 26, 16:32 Reply
    Hi there, just thought I'd stick in my six penny worth regarding Ermitage. I've read a lot about the cardinal signs of pirate products and producers, but Ermitage seem to contradict them on several points. They always specify a region, they have a strong online presence, and sponsor cinema events in Italy. They specify that they are using restored materials where this is the case ( Of course maybe they're pirating restored product...). Granted they don't specify audio details on the cases but overall they don't seem the obvious choice for a pirate company like many others you describe in detail in the blog....your thoughts?
    • Brent Reid
      June 21, 18:51 Reply
      Ermitage contradict nothing. If you read my article thoroughly you'll see it answers each of the points you specify. At least as far as their home video range is concerned, they're pirates.
      • Stevie
        June 22, 10:49 Reply
        Well....thanks for that comprehensive answer - I guess I should be grateful you left one of my comments intact after deleting the rest as you do kindly told me in your e mail. Is it really a circular argument when I and others point out issues in your arguments? You set the rules for pirates and say they ALWAYS do such and such and then when an exception is pointed out you seem to stamp your feet, delete comments and just say 'refer to my earlier posts'. That doesn't really answer WHY Ermitage present their product in a way you say quite clearly they WOULDN'T if they were pirates. Why couldn't you just say there are occasional exceptions to your golden rules? I think I've proven my earlier point that you seem to want things all ways when making your arguments, and really don't want people posting comments that question your arguments, as several people have done... [redacted for legal reasons]
        • Brent Reid
          October 28, 16:40 Reply
          Where on earth have I said anything about "always", as in unwaveringly, or "golden rules"? You're twisting my words – a pretty foolish thing to do when they're written here for everyone to see. You posted six irrelevant, trolling comments without waiting for my reply to the first one, hence my deleting them. You're also twisting yourself in knots to disprove the existence of bootlegs without supplying a single shred of evidence supporting your assertions. So Ermitage sponsor Italian cinema events? Notorious bootlegger Moravioff <em>owned</em> a chain of Italian cinemas! Reasoned debate, especially backed by evidence, is welcome here; trolling is not. As you seem to have only the latter to offer, please avoid this site in future and enjoy your bootlegs in peace.y
  10. Maestro
    June 30, 05:21 Reply
    Pardon my disbelief here but ummm...in regards to Shout Factory claiming that pirates are copying their releases....are they 100% sure of that? Maybe it's bootleggers selling DVD-R's of their upcoming releases because when something does become legitimately available, people tend to buy the legit release with all its extra features. As a collector myself, I've bought bootlegs of movies that are NOT readily available because I don't have all my damn life to wait for someone to finally release movies I want to see. Many films have been forgotten throughout the VHS era and long into the DVD/BD era as we only recently got legit releases of movies such as THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF and BLOOD & LACE. So pardon me if I'm not waiting until my last dying breath for some "out of the woodwork" company like Shout Factory (where were they 17 years ago?) decides to get these films released. Also, I and many other collectors, throw away the boots in favor of the legit release. Duh!
    • Brent Reid
      October 28, 06:30 Reply
      Shout! Factory know their business – and who's ripping them off – perfectly well. You're entitled to support bootlegging, as many do, but strange that you should be so unapologetic, even proud of the fact.
  11. Collector
    August 12, 00:51 Reply
    VHSPS is also another horrible offender. Their way of thinking is, "If it's not on dvd, then it's ok for us to put it on dvd." Somebody please shut those guys down.
    • Brent Reid
      October 28, 06:19 Reply
      Good call! Theirs is one of the most spurious uses of the word "preservation" that I've ever come across. Copyright thieves and profiteers indeed.

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