Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs, Part 4

Parodies and Bootlegging News

  • It’s not all grim: the world of piracy and bootlegging provides much fodder for comedy
  • Amazon and eBay are thieves’ global storefronts, but things are slowly changing
  • What does the future hold for business suffering from copyright theft?

Part 1: Overview, the public domain and spotting fakes | Part 2: Pirate companies and distribution | Part 3: Pirates and their victims speak | Part 4: Parodies and bootlegging news

Beware of Pirates sign 4


Contents


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 is this devilish effort, invoking shades of silent horror, Häxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages, 1922):

And who could forget this brain-drilling classic:

In a case of supreme irony, the latter 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 spoof:


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. They’ve even had to dedicate a “Counterfeits & Bootlegs” section of their FAQ page to the issue.

“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: I had high hopes when I first saw these headlines, follow-ups to the one above, 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 2018: 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.

March 2019: After the Big Two, iOffer is probably the third largest online marketplace for counterfeit and pirate goods. Following a campaign by the IACC, iOffer shut down its site for a week and purged it of many thieving sellers. However, the focus was on well known brands of goods and fashion labels; soon after the site was reactivated, the film and TV pirates and bootleggers’ listings were back in force.

June 2019: Frustrated collector Paul Rudoff’s excellent article goes into even more detail about many of the points I outlined in Part 1:


Conclusion

Everything I’ve written applies equally to all copyrighted property, in any medium, particularly concerning Italy and Spain being the epicentres of disc-based theft in the Western world. When it comes to music, even just pirated and bootlegged CDs, even twenty series of articles like these would barely scratch the surface. But much more research has been carried out in that area over the past few decades, and I can recommend some very good books:

Heylin’s thoroughly engaging survey is the bible of bootlegging history in general and an absolutely essential read, although as it was last updated at the turn of the millennium, it only covers the dawn of digital piracy. The more recent volumes essentially pick up where Heylin leaves off, but they’re merely the cream of an ever burgeoning crop. We can expect many more such studies, as the modern music (and film) landscape continues to evolve and adapt to new technologies at an ever increasing rate.

Though all copyrighted film and TV works are affected in some way by piracy, here I’m looking less at the ripping-off of the latest big budget blockbusters that seemingly scarcely makes a dent in 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 niche Spanish label Divisa. They’re fighting a very lonely battle in the European capital of piracy to get properly-licensed, high quality domestic releases of early and classic films onto the market. I urge you to support Divisa and their kin by purchasing their products whenever possible. Victims of piracy can seek help from crusading organisations like these:

Disney are perhaps the most conscientious – and biggest – company to take piracy seriously. They provide several ways to contact them and always act quickly on any information received.

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. Like all articles on this site, I’ll keep these updated with any new info; feel free to contribute in the comments below or contact me directly.


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.

Pirate ships with skull clouds

Part 1: Overview, the public domain and spotting fakes | Part 2: Pirate companies and distribution | Part 3: Pirates and their victims speak | Part 4: Parodies and bootlegging news


25 Comments

  1. Mike
    December 09, 23:20 Reply
    I'd like to know about a site called scifistation.com. I know they do bootlegs, but should they be on your list? Please let me know. Thanks!
    • Brent Reid
      December 12, 13:12 Reply
      Yes they/he should, Mike, though I was loathe to add him for the reason I've stated. Nonetheless, a thief is a thief so on the list he goes. Thanks for the prompt.
  2. Mike
    December 29, 02:26 Reply
    Thanks for your help! My next question is: what's your take on Sinister Cinema? I'd like to have an opinion on them, please. Thanks again!
    • Brent Reid
      December 31, 21:40 Reply
      They're already on the list, under Sinister Film.
  3. Mike
    January 01, 18:31 Reply
    Thanks! I saw that part, but I thought I could get a little more detail, like maybe an entry of their own on the list.
    • Brent Reid
      January 01, 20:38 Reply
      Hi Mike, I've now listed them separately but can't add much. What sort of info are you looking for; anything specific? As I understand it, they're pretty much like any of the other so-called PD labels I've described elsewhere, like Alpha, Mill Creek, etc. If anything they release is actually PD it's purely by chance and in the minority, and they think nothing of ripping off others' transfers. There is no real distinction between "PD" companies and outright bootleggers but I've tried to limit the list to the worst and most consistent offenders.
  4. Mike
    January 02, 06:56 Reply
    Okay, that's what I thought. I was thinking specifically of the Fred Olen Ray sci-fi film The Brain Leeches (1978) which, according to them when they first released it, sat unreleased until 2003, 25 years later, when they released it apparently with Ray's blessing. Another such film is That Little Monster (1981), a short horror film which, according to Greg Luce, the owner, when I called and asked if it was going to be released on DVD-R, said no because they only had the VHS rights to it. If fact, the film was so short it didn't even fill up the whole tape (I know this because I once bought it, watched it and checked it out when it was done).
    • Brent Reid
      January 02, 11:47 Reply
      Although I can't comment on those particular titles, a few labels occasionally seem to make the effort to release licensed product alongside their pirated wares. God alone knows why they do this, although it does give their supporters 'evidence' to 'prove' they're not bootleggers at all.
  5. Mike
    January 03, 06:50 Reply
    Again, that's what I thought. Thanks for all your help!
  6. Mike
    January 09, 22:11 Reply
    I just saw the separate listing for Sinister Cinema. Thanks a lot for your help! I'm sure that'll help others out, too.
  7. Mike
    January 19, 21:39 Reply
    One question: what's your take on Sinister Cinema's paperback book branch, Armchair Fiction?
    • Brent Reid
      January 20, 09:27 Reply
      One answer: paperback bootlegs. Do you own any copies; is any copyright information included in the endpapers? It's not a rhetorical question! I don't see any on the (also bootlegged) covers.
  8. Mike
    February 03, 20:22 Reply
    No, I don't own any copies of these books at all and from what you've told me here, I'm not sure I even want to now.
    • Brent Reid
      February 04, 06:59 Reply
      You have to salute their spirit of enterprise; I'm disgusted yet impressed in almost equal measure. I wonder what they'll think to rip off next? I see now that SinCin (as they're affectionately known) founder-owner Gregory J. Luce credits himself with sole copyright on all 1,000-odd titles. Yeah, right. As ever, I'd welcome input from him or anyone else involved with Sinister Cinema.
  9. Mike
    April 10, 21:24 Reply
    Is VCI Entertainment a legit company? One of the films they have is Gorgo and I'd like to find out if they're on the level. Thanks for the help!
    • Brent Reid
      April 11, 10:17 Reply
      Hi Mike, VCI release a lot of licensed product but also have many confirmed bootlegs on their books; I'm working on an article about it. Their Gorgo discs appear to be legit.
  10. Mike
    April 14, 01:23 Reply
    Thanks; that sure helps. Now I know I can get it without any problems.
  11. Mike
    April 21, 02:29 Reply
    Got a question. The books I was thinking of getting from Sinister Cinema's Armchair Fiction were The Shaver Mystery books by Richard S. Shaver. Eight volumes have been published so far and there may be others in the future. Even Amazon lists them; I checked it myself. Since no one else seems to have even published the stories before this - or even know they exist, as far as I can see - do you think it's possible they might be okay to purchase?
    • Brent Reid
      April 21, 14:46 Reply
      That's between you and your conscience; they're still bootlegs.
  12. Mike
    April 21, 02:53 Reply
    Got an update on my last post. A company called Nighttime Editions has also done eight volumes of The Shaver Mystery - but all of them were done in 2019. Sinister Cinema started their volumes (which, I believe, are going to be 10) in 2011. So they were the first to start the ball rolling. Which do you think is the better deal?
    • Brent Reid
      April 21, 14:55 Reply
      If the preceding articles weren't indication enough, I'm not the best person to ask for bootleg-buying advice. Instead of chasing pirates, why not try to find his legitimate publishers and heirs? He only died in 1975, so in no umiverse will his works be public domain anytime soon. A quick search for his name took me straight to Wikipedia, where there are some very useful links. Shavertron Press appear to be the keepers of his flame.
  13. Mike
    April 26, 17:49 Reply
    I've looked as best I can and I think Nighttime Editions seems to be legit, so I'll probably stick with them.
    • Brent Reid
      April 26, 18:21 Reply
      Nighttime Editions look as legit as Sinister Cinema, ie not at all. Their free wordpress.com-hosted blog says many of their titles have been rejected by Amazon "due to copyright issues". Which is a difficult accolade to earn from the world's biggest repository of pirated goods. But don't take my word for it; why not ask them via their contact form if anything they sell is licensed from the authors or their estates? Let us know if you get a straight answer.
  14. Mike
    May 13, 01:57 Reply
    Brent, I got a response from someone who, I presume, is connected to Nighttime Editions. This person gave the name Lisandro's books and his/her email is lisandroargentina@gmail.com. According to the email I got, Shaver had only one daughter who he never saw again after she was 2 years old. She must be almost 90 by now if she's still alive. Shaver didn't renew the copyrights of any of the Shaver Mystery stories at the time and the copyrights of the magazines they were published in weren't renewed either. According to U.S. law, these works are in the public domain. A website was included: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_United_States#Works_created_before_1978 This person says he/she checked the renewal records and Amazon always double-checks these circumstances before they let anyone publish something in the public domain; they are very careful with these things. The layout and compilation of the books (which this person did) isn't in the public domain. So, there's no legitimate owner(s) of these stories and articles and, thus, no bootlegs. That's the information I was able to get. Please do with it what you will. From what I've heard about the Shaver Mystery, however, it's absolutely terrible. You could almost call it "the anti-Cthulhu Mythos".
    • Brent Reid
      May 13, 13:18 Reply
      Thanks for following up, Mike; I wish more folk were as diligent as you. Obviously, the copyright status of Shaver's works would have to be investigated more thoroughly but even if 'lisandroargentina' is correct, they are certainly lying about Amazon checking copyrights themselves; they have neither the knowledge nor inclination to do so. What's more, as these articles you're commenting on make clear, it would be against Amazon's own interests as they make vast profits from the countless (unchecked) pirated products they sell. However, even if we accept Shaver's works as being PD, that still leaves dozens of other authors and hundreds of other definitely copyrighted films that Mr Sinister Cinema is ripping off. As I've said elsewhere, so-called PD companies just churn out anything they can get their grubby hands on, and simply by the law of averages some of it is bound to occasionally be PD. What I can say for definite is that new compilations or typesetting would not be enough to qualify the results as separately copyrightable works, so at best the Nighttime Editions will still be 100% PD.

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