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

by Brent Reid

Pirate Companies and Distribution

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

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 2


Contents


American, 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 I’ve done so in a few cases, it’s impossible to definitively link and cross-reference all the affiliated names; I’m certain that in the countries with apparently the largest number, no more than a handful of outfits are behind the overwhelming majority of them. For instance, the Spanish labels mentioned alongside Crin Ediciones, and the labels listed with those in turn, are all definitely affiliated – which links them to just about every other other outfit in the country.

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” labels selling a mixture of copyrighted and actual PD material, some 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, approach with extreme caution, as I guarantee a significant percentage of their inventory is still ripped off. Again, this is more common with older titles, as it’s easier to palm them off as being PD without anyone paying due diligence.

Though woefully incomplete, this is a confusing list (it never stops growing!) and not every label gets its own line. Best to do a page search by hitting the F3 key or Ctrl + f, and type in your query. If that fails to yield results, ask in the comments.

Argentina

  • Emerald Video

Australia

  • Avenue One aka RBC Entertainment
  • Bounty Films – founded by Tony Romeo, ex-of Force; more on both
  • Force Entertainment
  • LA Entertainment Worldwide – mostly region 0, NTSC DVDs of TV shows from various sources
  • rareandcollectibledvds – shady sideline of BPS Video Services
  • Siren Visual

Austria

  • Schröder Media – apparently a mixture of bootlegs and licensed material; see comments

Brazil

  • Cinema Livre – streaming pirates
  • ClassicLine
  • Continental Multimedia aka Barcelona, Cinemax, Kerygma, Paragon Multimedia Magnus Opus,  Masterplan, Signature, Silver Screen, Vintage and Wonder; article, podcast.
  • Faroeste Filmes
  • Microservice
  • New Line – different from same-name Spanish pirates
  • Obras-Primas do Cinema – mostly legit label who, like many others, are not averse to selling unlicensed copies of older, more obscure but still-copyrighted films.

Canada

Chile

  • Cinematekka Manquehue
  • M&M Música y Marketing
  • VMC Editores

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
  • Japan Eiga (formerly Sasori 41) aka Cyril Descans – based in Paris, specialises in DVD-Rs of copyrighted Eastern Asian films. Most are available in better quality on legit releases; his few PD (pre-1925) titles are mainly rips of others’ copyrighted restorations
  • RDM Video (RDMV) aka RDM Edition
  • Votre marque

Germany

  • Eyecatcher Movies aka New Entertainment – run by Siegfried Varga; see here, here, here and here
  • FNM Falcon Neue Medien aka Phoenix Bild from “Peter West Trading & Music Production”; awful, sub-VHS, non-anamorphic transfers and muffled German dubs only
  • Intergroove – release under a host of names, including Best Entertainment, Crest Movies, daredo, Delta Music & Entert., div, Edel Germany, Great Movies, Indigo, Savoy Film, Schröder Media, Soulfood, White Pearl Movies, WE Home-Entertainment, WMM and many others. Collectively, they’re likely the biggest media thieves in Germany. Also pirate Hitchcock’s films extensively
  • Inked Pictures – unauthorised “limited editions” of mostly legit discs with fancy repackaging but occasionally use others’ bootlegs too, eg Great Movies’ Hitchcock BDs and DVDS of Steps, Lady, Rebecca and Spellbound. They’re like animals eating each others’ faeces. Quite possibly even a sub-label of Intergroove. Amusingly, they claim not to run their own Facebook page!
  • Laser Paradise – affiliated with WME; see comments
  • MIG Film GmbH aka MIG Filmgroup – release DVD boots as Endless Classics, MeToo-Trading, MT Films, Mr Banker Films, Maritim Pictures, etc
  • Several unconfirmed – see comments

Greece

  • Silver Star aka Silver Media

Italy

  • A&R Productions aka CinemaECultura.com, Focus Video Srl and Il tempio del video; affiliated with DNA
  • Artist First Digital – affiliated with Quadrifoglio
  • CG (Cecchi Gori) Entertainment/CG Home Video – distributors for Ermitage, Sinister Film and others
  • Cineteca
  • Cult Media
  • CVC
  • Dania Film
  • DNA aka Millennium Storm
  • DVD Storm
  • Enjoy Movies – affiliated with Punto Zero Film
  • Ermitage Cinema – based in both Milan and Paris; also trade as Dcult and Dynit. Stopped producing new DVDs in 2011, with a few dozen Dynit reissues in 2015. Now mainly selling pirated streams via their own website.
  • Explosion Video
  • Golem Video
  • Griffe
  • Mosaico Media
  • Mya Communication – closed down and currently trading as One 7 Movies, with dual releases in 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 US bootleggers Sinister Cinema
  • Studio 4K – defunct; 40-odd BDs from 2013–2015
  • Terminal Video Italia – distributors for many pirate labels

 Spain

  • Absolute Distribution aka L’Atelier 13, Bang Bang Movies, Carousel Films, Jigsaw Movies, Side Street, War & West Movies, etc. Affiliated with Paycom
  • Art House Media/Paycom Multimedia – Llamentol
  • Blackfire Productions
  • Centipede Films
  • CincoDías
  • Cinecom – affiliated with No Limits Films and Sotelysa
  • Creative Films
  • Crin Ediciones – affiliated with Manga Films/Vértice, RBA, Resen, Suevia, etc
  • Feel Films – affiliated with Resen and Suevia
  • IDA Films – affiliated with Creative
  • LaCasaDelCineParaTodos
  • Layons Multimedia
  • Llamentol – affiliated with Mapetac: both have almost-neighbouring registered addresses in Vilassar de Mar and de Dalt, Barcelona
  • 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
  • Motion Pictures – also ripped off Motown logo
  • Nacadih Video
  • Naimara Producciones
  • New Line Films – not to be confused with New Line Home Video/Entertainment
  • 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; also see Sotelysa
  • Resen (Research Entertainment) – the dirty dogfather of Spanish pirates and linked to just about all the others
  • Restaura Films – one-man band run by Jorge Massa Saboya, an expat Spaniard currently residing in the US and attempting to establish Spanish and US distribution for his pirated transfers. Though most are copyrighted, a few of the titles in his “catalogue” are indeed PD, but even they are all stolen from others’ restored BDs
  • SatanMedia – Llamentol
  • Seleccion Classicos
  • Sotelysa aka Sogemedia – affiliated with Regia
  • Suevia Films – affiliated with Crin, Feel, Resen, etc; unrelated to the 1940–1983 Spanish film studio of the same name
  • Tribanda Pictures – affiliated with JRB
  • TVE Comercial/SoGood,ent.
  • Vellavisión
  • Yowu Entertainment

Taiwan

  • BitWel – substandard BDs and DVDs of countless classics. The former have awful auto-upmixed 5.1 audio, regardless of original format, with many also auto-converted to stretched, blurry 3D; comparison screenshots of North by Northwest.

UK

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
  • Alpha Video/Home Entertainment aka Gotham (DBA Alpha) and Oldies.com – run by Jerry Greene, his daughter Melissa Greene-Anderson (interview) and many others. Sell some licensed product, but the staggering amount of  CD, DVD and streaming pirates on their books (1,000s; far more than many 100% bootleggers) merits inclusion on this list. They hide in plain sight and even have their own Wikipedia page, though it’s mostly edited by sock puppet accounts
  • Artiflix
  • Asian Cult Cinema – aka industrious thief Thomas Weisser, who has also self-published an eponymous book and magazine
  • 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
  • Classic Movies Etc.
  • Cult Action
  • Desert Island Films – DVD-R and streaming rip-offs
  • Digiview Entertainment – supposedly PD label who were sued for piracy and bit the dust
  • dvdcoming – TV show sets, done cheap and nasty
  • DVD Lady
  • EarthStation1 aka Mediaoutlet – run by shameless self-promoter J. C. Kaelin, who specialises in ripping off copyrighted TV and radio material, often pirating official releases
  • Echelon Studios – US-based DVD-R and streaming pirates especially active on Amazon Video in the UK and Germany. Founded by Eric Louzil; more staff. Affiliated with Film Gorillas
  • Festival Films aka FesFilms – run by Ron Hall, who has even had the nerve to post a convoluted, contradictory copyright lie to justify his prolific thieving
  • Film Gorillas/Rabbits – have a colossal amount of stolen, copyrighted content uploaded on Dailymotion with more viewable via subscription at their website. Affiliated with Echelon Studios
  • 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.
  • J4HI – aka Mike Decker; same M.O. as Japan Eiga
  • japanesesamuraidvd aka Eddie Huang – see JH4I
  • Kurotokagi Gumi aka Corey Chapman – see JH4I
  • Loving the Classics
  • Miracle Pictures
  • ModCinema – see comments
  • Movie Buffs Forever
  • MovieDetective
  • Movies R USA
  • 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 and good reputation. Distributed by mostly legit MOD DVD manufacturers Allied Vaughn, who also service other bootleggers
  • OnesMedia
  • The Orchard Enterprises/Entertainment – possibly the biggest, most prolific and profitable company on this list – and the most blatant, as they’re hiding in plain sight. A subsidiary of corporate behemoth Sony, who are hypocritically quick to defend their own copyrights, The Orchard’s M.O. is to falsely claim ownership of an inestimable quantity of music, movie and TV content across over a thousand YouTube channels. Just four examples are the British Hitchcocks on YouTube Movies here, here, here and here; they’re actually owned by Studiocanal and ITV Studios. Like many listed copyright predators, eg Films sans Frontières, The Orchard are busy claiming millions in stolen payments and ad revenues until caught out. They then simply pull the challenged claim but continue preying on countless others, living by the credo of all cheats and thieves: It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
  • Passport Video – David Shepard: “The owner of Passport is a sociopath named Dante J. Pugliese.’’
  • PR Studios
  • rarefilmsandmore – thousands of overpriced plain DVD-Rs of copyrighted material, almost all of which is available on quality legit releases
  • Reel Vault
  • RetroFilm Vault
  • RetroFlix
  • Sci-Fi Station – aka Arnold Leibovit, who has been instrumental in legitimately restoring and releasing George Pal’s Puppetoon shorts. A pity then, that he also specialises in selling others’ 100% ripped-off, obviously copyrighted sci-films and series, despite his site bearing the standard but patently absurd pirate’s disclaimer that his wares are PD
  • 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
  • Sinister Cinema – so-called ‘public domain’ label owned and run by the industrious Gregory J. (or plain Greg) Luce since 1984. He sells mostly bootlegs: formerly 1,000s on VHS, now over 2,000 titles on DVD-R and Amazon Prime, and around 1,000 pirated genre books via his “Armchair Fiction” range. No relation to Italian bootleggers Sinister Film.
  • Starry Night Video
  • Synergy Ent(ertainment) – run by Jeff Murphy; well over 2,000 mostly copyrighted titles and I can’t find a single one that’s licensed. Care to prove me wrong, Jeff?
  • 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
  • Vermont Movie Store
  • VHS Preservation Society – same M.O. as Televista
  • Video Dimensions
  • Vina Distributor/Distribution
  • Vintage Film Buff
  • Wham! USA – affiliated with Televista
  • Zeus DVDs – formerly known as Jubilee DVDs, Queensbury DVDs and Xerxes DVDs
The Black Pirate (1926, Douglas Fairbanks)

Cropped still from Douglas Fairbank’s The Black Pirate (1926). Only released so far by US Kino on restored Blu-ray and DVD, though it’s also been bootlegged by Great Movies in Germany.

In Spain, Research Entertainment are foremost among the most prolific bootleggers – to the extent that “Resen” is Spanish slang for a pirate or bootleg. A well-earned, poetically negative example of genericisation.

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 established thieving 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. 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. Thankfully, these frivolous claims seldom 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.

Moravioff’s deviousness knows no bounds; I have to hand it to the guy: he’s devised more ways of monetising his theft than anyone I’ve come across. For instance, he’s in the habit of fraudulently licensing “his” stolen transfers to unsuspecting, legitimate home video labels like IVC in Japan, Zima in Mexico and others. In 2012, he took it several steps further by scamming YouTube out of €123,000. This is certainly worthy of more investigation, as it seems he did it by lying about having the rights to various films that were uploaded to the site without his “permission”. I bet YouTube/Google would love to get their own back! More on him in Part 3.

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 or streaming 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. Another unscrupulous individual to come to light, in 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 odious parasite 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 loathsome 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 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


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ereimjh
ereimjh
19th May 2019 00:53

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.

David
David
21st September 2019 23:02

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)

David
David
22nd September 2019 18:17

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… Read more »

Libby
Libby
22nd September 2019 18:39

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.

Ricky
Ricky
27th September 2019 19:02

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

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