Avast, Ye Mateys!

Avast, Ye Mateys!
The Pirate's Ballad

Graeme Virtue | 17 Feb 2009 13:03
Avast, Ye Mateys! - RSS 2.0

Small-town Scotland, 1992: a place as grim and grey as you'd imagine it to be. I'm 15 years old and cock-a-hoop for my Commodore Amiga 500, a 16-bit wonder machine. Only thing is, games are expensive - the equivalent of $50 each, which was plenty of do-re-mi back then. But once in a while, pirated discs would circulate around the high school playground. These cracked games had their copy-protection defanged by curiously-named pirate collectives - like LSD, Skid Row, Fairlight, Anthrax and Paradox - and they came front-loaded with eye-popping technical demos that advertised, and then tirelessly reiterated, the mad skillz of their liberators. There was a lot of thrilling trash-talk between rival hacking groups from all over Europe. It was illegal, immoral and almost always puerile. But it was also kinda exciting.

Flash-forward to small-town Scotland, 2009: a place as grim and grey as you'd imagine it to be. Like everyone else, I'm absent-mindedly surfing the internet looking for free music/films/TV/porn. I stumble across Film Update List, a movie-link website with such a boringly utilitarian name that I initially reject it as being dull, dull, dull. And yet, compared to all the other faceless aggregating sites that talk a good game then disintegrate into disruptive ad pop-ups and broken links, this place actually delivers. On closer examination, it's a labour of love by one lone corsair, a guy called D-Man2010.

Turns out D-Man2010 has been pirating films for years through various forums and websites. He was also in Skid Row, the old Amiga game-hacking posse. And according to his MySpace, he's exactly the same age as me. Further investigation reveals that the majority of his MySpace friends are highly attractive glamor models, and his preferred ambient soundtrack is Street Fighter 2-savvy chanteuse George Pringle (also a favourite of mine). So at first glance, D-Man2010 and I have quite a lot in common, apart from the glamor model friends.

I become slightly obsessed with him. It may have been sparked by our shared Amiga heritage but there's also something fascinatingly narcissistic about the tone of Film Update List. It's clearly a successful site - the visitor counter is nudging 1.5 million users - yet D-Man2010 endlessly declaims how supremely awesome it is, in a voice made all the more distinctive by his habit of Capitalizing Every Single Word He Utters. There's a slight disconnect between these excitable pronouncements and the actual pirated films - there's a lot of straight-to-DVD shlock. But there is also a conscientious professionalism: in addition to offering video upload service workarounds and refining his site's search functions, D-Man2010 regularly posts synopses to IMDB so users can make a reasonably informed decision about the film they're about to watch illegally. And while most sites go out of their way to insist they don't actually host any dubious content, Film Update List is all up in your grill with its lawlessness; an Anti-Piracy Museum section gleefully catalogues the missteps of the global anti-piracy lobby. (I'd never seen this US advert, and now I can't terminate it from my memory.)

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To feed my fascination, I start to research D-Man2010. Apparently, he was notorious in the Amiga hacking scene for editing an aggressive, childishly funny newsletter called Lamer News. He made the front page of two national UK newspapers for hacking Buckingham Palace and phoning the Queen (while drunk). When he was 15, he was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the UK's anti-piracy agency, the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), now the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT). He is a lifelong pirate. I decide to push for an interview.

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