The prolific internet pirate known as 'YIFY' was once one of Hollywood's biggest adversaries. The elusive figure, well-known in torrenting circles after forming a group that uploaded thousands of high-profile blockbusters, was loved by fellow pirates, but reviled by the copyright industry for taking its cash-cows and sharing them online for eager viewers to download for free.
Like all good things, it eventually came to an end. In fact, everything came crashing down overnight after a multi-million lawsuit was brought forward by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in October last year. Now, the former leader of the 'YIFY' brand, who goes by the same name, has opened up about the rise and fall of piracy – and outlined how a one-time hobby spiralled from a bedroom operation into a fight with the movie industry itself.
"I never really saw this as a criminal thing to be honest," the former pirate said during a recent 'Ask Me Anything' (AMA) session on Reddit. "I was always of the mindset that I was filling a niche. It all started just as a 'for fun' thing, I never really thought anything of the ordeal when I started uploading in 2010. I essentially just went along for the ride as the YIFY name grew. I guess what I am trying to say is, I wasn't smart enough to think ahead of what the consequences could be in the future."
The rise of torrent clients and websites like KickassTorrents and The Pirate Bay have long caused a headache for Hollywood. However, on the nature of piracy, YIFY said these websites will always exist 'in some form' and that the movie industry needs to understand that combating piracy "is not a battle nor a war". The former YIFY leader added: "It's a fact, and it will continue to happen. You cannot beat it. What they can do, is make their services good enough that piracy will be less relevant. That's how they will win."
And in some cases, YIFY acknowledged progress from mainstream services like Netflix and Spotify – which are both shaking up the underground piracy industry by offering consumers the one thing torrent websites can't: convenience.
"For the most part, torrenting is inconvenient. It's a multiple step process and nobody wants to see those crappy Pirate Bay ads while they're at work. So you use Spotify," YIFY told TorrentFreak in an interview published alongside the AMA. "Look at Spotify for example. Can you imagine yourself in 2016 at work, wanting to listen to your favourite jam and going to a torrent site and getting it that way? No way. You open Spotify or YouTube and listen; sure you will get ads, but it's totally worth avoiding going to a torrent site for songs."
For YIFY, the topic of the court case remains off-limits. While specific details around the deliberations remain vague, it was revealed the now-retired internet pirate was operating out of New Zealand. While an out-of-court private settlement was eventually agreed that aimed to keep the former YIFY leader's identity out of the public spotlight – that didn't last forever. In March this year, one newspaper covering the case revealed the MPAA filed listings against a 23-year-old app developer called Yiftach Swery.
The MPAA said YIFY's website – now called YTS – existed "for the sole purpose of distributing motion pictures on a massive scale." Indeed, in its latter years, the YIFY brand continued as a collective rather than the work of a single individual. The original leader, however, has moved on. In the AMA, YIFY admitted: "I always said 'as soon as someone properly asks you to stop, you stop and walk away from it'. This is essentially how it all played out." However, when asked by one commenter about any regrets or changes that would be made in retrospect, YIFY said: "Short answer is, no. I wouldn't.
"Having the website and having to learn the hard way how to code, how to fix bugs, how to scale up with extra traffic, how to add redundancy due to the website falling over the weekend previous. It was an amazing experience. Having to put in place an automatic bot that encodes and uploads and seeds movies all by itself, only because I didn't have the time to do it manually. I wouldn't trade it for the world."