Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs, Part 2

Pirate Companies and Distribution

  • There are seemingly endless numbers of pirate labels, all hiding in plain sight
  • Pointing the finger at ones hardest to spot: those based in the Western world
  • Worst offenders even infiltrating TV, cinemas and film festivals with their stolen goods
  • Illegal online uploads are rife, but even legitimate streaming platforms are infested

This article is part of a series; if you’ve landed directly on this page I strongly recommend you start from Part 1.

Beware of Pirates sign 2

 


Contents


US, European and Antipodean 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 this checklist. In common with most public domain companies, occasionally pirates muddy the waters by also selling what, to all intents and purposes, appears to be officially licensed product. Make no mistake though: the vast majority of labels on this list are 100% thieves. Even with the very few ‘better’ ones, I guarantee 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 without anyone paying due diligence.

Australia

  • Avenue One aka RBC Entertainment
  • Bounty Films – founded by Tony Romeo, ex-of Force; more on both
  • Force Entertainment
  • rareandcollectibledvds – shady sideline of BPS Video Services
  • Siren Visual

France

  • Aventi
  • Bach Films
  • Collection Ciné-Club – affiliated with FSF
  • Ermitage Cinema – also trade as HK Editions; see Italy listing
  • Films sans Frontières (FSF) – owned by über pirate Galeshka Moravioff; lots more here
  • Harmonia Mundi – affiliated with FSF
  • RDM Video (RDMV) aka RDM Edition and Inconnu
  • Votre marque

Germany

  • Great Movies – release under a host of names, including Best Entertainment, Crest Movies, daredo, Delta Music & Entert., div, Edel Germany, Indigo, Soulfood, White Pearl Movies, WME Home-Entertainment and many others. They also pirate Alfred Hitchcock’s films extensively.

Italy

  • A&R Productions
  • Artist First Digital – affiliated with Quadrifoglio
  • CG (Cecchi Gori) 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 emptying its coffers and getting it in legal trouble for using unlicensed transfers[1]; more info
  • 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 – run by Nicola Compagnini; 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 and Suevia
  • Filmax
  • IDA Films
  • LaCasaDelCineParaTodos
  • 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) – the dirty dogfather of Spanish pirates and linked to just about everybody else
  • SatanMedia – Llamentol
  • Seleccion Classicos de Oro
  • Sotelysa – aka Sogemedia
  • Suevia Films – affiliated with Feel and Resen; unrelated to the 1940–1983 Spanish film studio of the same name
  • Tribanda Pictures – affiliated with JRB
  • 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
  • Alfred’s Place – run by Al Chafin, who has sold DVD-Rs of everything by Hitchcock and other copyrighted works for years
  • Artiflix
  • 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 – DVD-R and digital rip-offs
  • Digiview Entertainment – supposedly PD label who were sued for piracy and bit the dust
  • dvdcoming.com
  • Echelon Studios – US-based DVD-R and digital pirates especially active on Amazon Video in the UK and Germany
  • Harpodeon – run by W. Dustin Alligood, who sells pirated prints from Blackhawk Films and others, then claims copyright in them! Yes, they can be licensed for public exhibition for a fat fee. He’s rude with it, too. Lesser spiritual kin of Alex Staykov, below.
  • Hollywood’s Attic – run by Woody Wise, a self-confessed, convicted veteran pirate; acquired by Nostalgia Family Video in 2004
  • International Historic Films, Inc.
  • Loving the Classics
  • Miracle Pictures
  • Mya Communication, One 7 Movies – see Italy listing
  • Nostalgia Family Video – run by convicted pirate Jeremy Brunner
  • Nostalgia Merchant aka My Video Classics, My Radio Classics and “daviddownhome” on eBay – no relation to the original, legit Nostalgia Merchant (1978–1993), though industrious owner David Robinson has stolen the latter’s name, logo[2] and good reputation. Sadly distributed by otherwise legit MOD DVD manufacturers Allied Vaughn.
  • OnesMedia
  • Passport Video – David Shepard: “The owner of Passport is a sociopath named Dante J. Pugliese.’’
  • PR Studios
  • Reel Vault
  • RetroFilm Vault
  • Silent Hall of Fame – aka Alex Staykov, a liar and scam artist who sells very expensive plain DVD-R rips of legit releases and YouTube uploads via his site for $25-30 “donations”. Banned from many online silent film communities where he tries to peddle his wares; see here, here, here, here, here and here. Also sells on Amazon as “Classic Silent Film Gems” ($28-38), eBay as “yorkmba99” ($28-33 + $14.25-37.50 postage!) and posts pirated vids on his own YouTube channel. On Twitter as @SilentFilmGems. See comments below.
  • Starry Night Video
  • Televista – formerly known as Substance, New Star, Morningstar and Jef Films; all run by Jeffrey H. Aikman (obviously self-penned IMDb entry), whose speciality is transferring copyrighted VHS tapes to DVD. Not to be confused with Televisa.
  • Thomas Film Classics
  • Trash Palace
  • VHS Preservation Society – same M.O. as Televista
  • Video Dimensions
  • Vina Distributor/Distribution
  • Vintage Film Buff
  • Wham! USA
  • Zeus DVDs – formerly known as Jubilee DVDs, Queensbury DVDs and Xerxes DVDs

The Black Pirate (1926, Douglas Fairbanks)

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

Note Australia is also plagued by more than its share of piracy and back in their bad old beginnings, the UK’s now-esteemed Eureka label was partial to partnering with antipodean thieves in regularly ripping off other small labels. Even mainstream British newspapers have got in on the act.

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, especially all over eBay, I’m unaware of any large scale pirating or bootlegging operations based in this country. With a few notable exceptions, the situation is quite similar in Germany; that 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. Moravioff is even taking it a step further by licensing “his” stolen transfers to uninformed, legitimate home video labels like IVC in Japan, Zima in Mexico and others.

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 art of deception than decent, hard-working folk trying to earn an honest living.

Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate (1926)

Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate (1926)


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 (archived copy) of the IndieWire article’s claims, but his arguments are as leaky as a sieve. For some reason, Baechler subsequently removed said rebuttal; perhaps in time even he came to realise his actions were utterly indefensible. 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.

Part 2: Pirate Companies and Distribution


13 Comments

  1. ereimjh
    May 19, 00:53 Reply
    Thank you, Brent. I'm afraid I've been a little too indiscriminate in my DVD buying habits. Over the past five years I've amassed quite a collection, and most of it's from legit, licensed companies, but I've got a few from companies that are on this list, too. Most recently I bought a couple of titles off of Amazon (who definitely need to be more proactive in rooting this stuff out) from Reel Vault. Henceforth, I'll be avoiding them and the other companies on this list. Live and learn, as they say. I'm keeping this article bookmarked. Cheers.
    • Brent Reid
      July 02, 08:06 Reply
      You're very welcome. I'm afraid Amazon aren't proactive in the slightest and don't look like changing their ways anytime soon. My findings and list aren't definitive but are at least regularly updated. I just wanted to inform and provoke discussion on the subject as no one seemed to have really done so in this manner before.
  2. David
    September 21, 23:02 Reply
    Hi, Brent. Thanks for your great work singling out the pirates to avoid. I do have a question. Is Alex Staykov's SILENT HALL OF FAME which you describe above the same as the website (silent-hall-of-fameDOTorg) which purports to accept donations so that neglected silent stars can get their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? This website gives away and, I guess, sells DVDs from the so-called Silent Gems Collection. Are these the same as Staykov's Classic Silent Film Gems pirated DVDs? David (Tucson, AZ, USA)
    • Brent Reid
      September 22, 10:03 Reply
      You're welcome, David. Yes, they're all one and the same scammer. A correction though: he doesn't give anything away, but some of his cheap DVD-Rs of other peoples' material can be had in return for a "donation". His honeytrap website has been running for over six years now but unsurprisingly, none of his much touted memorial stars have yet appeared, so where's all the money going? As if we didn't know.
  3. David
    September 22, 18:17 Reply
    Thanks, Brent, for your prompt reply. I passed on the link to this page to a poster on Nitrateville who'd just described watching a Silent Hall of Fame video on YouTube. I noticed to my surprise that the recent, somewhat disappointing, rather self-serving film on Alice Guy (BE NATURAL...) by Pamela Green included a surprising end credit to the man behind Jef Films. Somewhat of a shocker to see that. I prefer the quieter 1995 documentary on Alice Guy, THE LOST GARDEN. On another note, is there some sort of site map or navigational aid to Brentonfilm.com? I never can easily find recent updates. When I go to your front page, I only find "updates" from 2015 and 2016. If you'd prefer to reply to me on my personal email, please do. As always, thanks for your great work.
    • Brent Reid
      September 24, 13:22 Reply
      It's particularly disappointing when industry figures themselves lend credibility to pirates, but she's not alone. Other thieves on the above list have featured in well meaning documentaries and the like; you'd think modern filmmakers would be too respectful of others' copyrights to involve them. As for your second point, I've emailed you!
  4. Libby
    September 22, 18:39 Reply
    The really odd thing about Staykov and his SilentGems/Hall of Fame rip-offs of DVD-r copies is that he's still on Ebay with a 100% rating. As if no one has ever complained about getting a copy when he advertises his product as "new." Basically he steals other people's work and removes the copyrighted music track. He replaces this with generic pap. He pulls the same thing on Amazon. I can't believe Ebay and Amazon have not received complaints or notices of copyright infringement. Yet he's still there.
    • Brent Reid
      September 24, 13:45 Reply
      It's a real head-scratcher, Libby, but there are seemingly no end of gullible folk with deep pockets. As Einstein supposedly said, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
  5. Ricky
    September 27, 19:02 Reply
    I thought Reel Vault was legit. I’ve purchased a few prints from them and they were really good. Hoppity goes to town is beautiful. It’s a shame
    • Brent Reid
      September 28, 15:04 Reply
      Hi Ricky, As I say in Part 1, there's no real dividing line between most "public domain" labels and outright pirates. I've included on this list those with all or a majority of copyrighted inventory, but in truth many, many more also qualify, though to a lesser degree. Reel Vault sell copyrighted material as wantonly as anyone. For instance, Hoppity/Mr. Bug Goes to Town is owned by Viacom via their acquisition of Paramount, who in turn took over the Fleischer Studios, makers of the cartoon, in 1941.
  6. Ricky
    September 28, 21:22 Reply
    Hi Brent I really appreciate your posts and hope it grows. It's a great place for us film collectors to connect. I've also been taken by Staykov and his Silent Hall of SHAME. I bought copies of "Huckleberry Finn" 1920 and the ultra rare "A Burglar by Proxy" 1919. Both were taken from other source material and not restorations by Staykov. In fact, "Proxy" has a masked watermark, and when I contacted Staykov about this, he promptly told me he didn't know what I was talking about. He dupes collectors into believing that we are making "donations" when purchasing his prints which is utter rubbish. I haven't purchased any other DVDs from him as I will not willingly support a Bootlegger.
    • Brent Reid
      September 29, 16:32 Reply
      Thanks, Ricky, and you're welcome. What I'd really like is for Staykov himself to comment here or contact me, to offer a shred of evidence refuting these assertions. But he won't because he can't.
  7. Ricky
    October 10, 17:27 Reply
    Here in the States we have the notorious Alpha Video who dupes their DVD r garbage from legit sources. Quality of these releases varies greatly based on the sourced they pirated it from. Their copy of The Most Dangerous Game Is sourced from Kino as is The Stranger. They also have copies of Hypnotized 1932 and The Missing Corpse 1945 sourced from another bootlegger named Vintage Film Buff who used 16mm prints transferred to Beta-cam. I noticed that Amazon UK is selling many of Alpha’s copies so beware.

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