Piracy. It's an all-too-familiar topic that has been beaten into the ground such that it doesn't really faze anyone anymore. In fact, it's something we're so familiar with, that it has become a regular part of many of our lives -- despite examples having been made along the way of your everyday Joe/Jill. The days of file-sharing services like Napster and Kazaa are long-gone while torrents reign supreme, but there's a completely different method of piracy that has been running steadily for years and turning a sizable profit all the while: file-hosting and link-sharing Web sites.
The combination of these two types of sites is like a one-two punch resulting in a knockout. They are both essential for one another to function in such a profitable manner, and man, oh, man, do they ever make a lot of money doing what they do. The specific monetization methods for each service/site differ, but they all consist of some combination of the following:
File-hosting Web sites: These are sites like RapidShare, FileServe, FileSonic, Hotfile, Megaupload, etc. If you've never heard of them, they're basically Web sites that allow you to upload files to them so that you can share them with others. In a world without piracy, the types of files one might upload would be documents to share with coworkers, videos to share with others, etc. But this isn't a world without piracy, so what people tend to upload is -- you guessed it -- pirated content.
Now, all of these sites allow you to download files from them for free, but there's typically a wait or some sort of inconvenience. And how do you make that go away? By becoming a paid member of the site: "FASTER DOWNLOADS! UNLIMITED PARALLEL DOWNLOADS! DOWNLOAD FILES LARGER THAN 1GB!"
The list goes on.
Now, it's important to clarify that, for many these days, piracy is about far more than just getting something for free; it's about getting something for free as quickly and conveniently as possible. It's not enough to get something for free. They need it ASAP, too.
So, here you have file-hosting sites making money off of people who pay them per-month (or whatever payment tier they choose) to have something like unlimited, unthrottled access to files. And for those who don't pay, they get to look at ads while waiting to download. Now all that's needed is a way to find the files you're interested in on these sites, right? I mean, is it just a coincidence that NONE of these file-hosting sites (well, none of the ones I've seen, anyway) have built-in search functionality? I think not.
Link-sharing Web sites: Provisioning for the lack of built-in search functionality on file-hosting Web sites is the multitude of link-sharing Web sites: communities and forums that exist for people to share links to uploaded content with others. Sites like ReleaseLog and AvaxHome, to be exact. (To note, I don't recommend searching for them and visiting them unless you have some sort of ad-blocking functionality enabled in your browser.) While they provide daily doses of fresh, new links to the latest software, movies, music, adult content, and more, they actually make money from the whole process via ads.
And before you automatically assume the amount of money made must be a trivial amount, think again. I personally know an individual who earns an easy $3,000 a month running one of these types of sites. While that's not breaking the bank, it's also more than a lot of people make per month with their full-time job, so consider that.
Come to think of it, how ludicrous of an idea is it to suggest to companies like Microsoft and Adobe to secretly form and grow a similar community, then distribute monies earned evenly to at least get in on some sort of earnings on pirated content of theirs?
That's actually pretty ridiculous, but I thought I was onto something clever for a second there. Nope.
Back to file-hosting Web sites, new ones are coming out almost daily and link-sharing Web sites tend to individually pick two or three to always use. But what happens when you want to download files from, say, six different file-hosting sites? You leverage services like FilePunch. Basically, you sign up with them and, through them, you can download from multiple file-hosting sites as though you're a member of each of them individually.
But wait, it gets better!
Since it's far too easy to find yourself downloading hundreds of gigs worth of work-related files (*cough, cough*) from multiple file-hosting sites, wouldn't it be nice to have a download manager to use? JDownloader, to the rescue! Programs like JDownloader allow you to fill in your credentials for just about every file-hosting Web site under the sun and manage downloads at the same time. JDownloader even recognizes the CAPTCHAs required by certain file-hosting sites when downloading files for free. Awesome Ridiculous, isn't it?
And last but not least, let's not forget about the search engines out there that exist solely to index links from file-hosting Web sites. Such search engines are FilesTube, FileCrop, and RapidLibrary, to name a few. They, too, typically leverage ad-based models of monetization. And if you had any doubt about what people are using them to search for, just take a look at some of the "recent searches" most of these search engines show at the bottom of their home page. I see no sign of "yearly TPS report archive" or "freelance artist's free uploaded works." Do you?
So, there you have it. As you can see, there's an entire ecosystem thriving with just this one particular method of piracy (or "content distribution," as I'm sure they would prefer it to be called). It's fast, it's efficient, and it's incredibly profitable for those involved. These are the modern day profiteers of piracy who make a quick and easy buck off of the losses of content owners whose otherwise for-cost products are being made easily available to the masses for free (kind of).
-Stephen Chapman SEO Whistleblower Related Content:
Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.