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

by Brent Reid

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


A bit of fun

50 fun facts about copyright

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 and that of others like them only target viewers who have 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 1922 silent horror Häxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages):

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. An 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:


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 I can vouch for the fact they always act quickly on any information received.

As ever, 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.

June 2021: Germany becomes the first country to adopt new reforms in line with the 2019 EU Copyright Directive, which is essentially intended to make copyright “fit for the digital age“. One of its key points is to rightly put the onus on platforms such as social media channels, including YouTube, to more proactively monitor – and remove where appropriate – unlicensed material. But it’s not without controversy, as users fear overt censorship and many content creators claim the net effect will be to direct more money generated by their work into the coffers of said platforms. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, and there are several overlapping ones, it’s a done deal so it remains to be seen just how it will all shake out.

December 2021: Ironically, noted racist and blues-appropriating musician Eric Clapton is busy proving that it is possible to fight back against bootlegging. But in this case he went after the wrong target. As first reported in Bild then picked up by news outlets worldwide, he successfully sued a German widow who was innocently selling one of her husband’s CDs on eBay, the Eric Clapton ‎- Live USA bootleg. Although Clappedout has apparently “successfully pursued hundreds of bootleg cases in the German courts”, he really should stick to gunning for repeat offenders who manufacture and distribute the things in the first place.

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

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9th December 2020 23:20

I’d like to know about a site called I know they do bootlegs, but should they be on your list?

Please let me know. Thanks!

29th December 2020 02:26

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!

1st January 2021 18:31

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.

2nd January 2021 06:56

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… Read more »

3rd January 2021 06:50

Again, that’s what I thought. Thanks for all your help!

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