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.)
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.
I’d love to claim that I had to hack into a classified government database to track him down, but I just emailed D-Man2010 through his site, identifying myself as a journalist. He promptly replied, agreeing to be interviewed by email for this issue of The Escapist. Here are some of our exchanges. (D-Man2010’s answers have been edited for ease of comprehension – even in emails, he Caps Every Word.)
The Escapist: Can you tell me a bit about your background?
D-Man2010: I came from a poor family, and had an addictive personality for the mere tedium of hours & hours of uploading on the Amiga scene/skid-row releases/films -you need it. Also had a satirical sense of humor and was competitive.
TE: What’s your life situation? How do you balance a job and the site?
DM: I have a legal income and Film Update List doesn’t on paper make a profit. All Done For Love. (& if you believe that u believe anything!!!!). Takes hours and hours. Often I’m sitting at 3/4am (allegedly) uploading.
TE: You started out on the Amiga hacking scene. Do you still play videogames?
DM: No. Only games I play are in bed.
TE: If so, what are some of your favorites?
DM: Back in the day I loved Elite and Yie Ar Kung Fu. On the Amiga, Power Drift & Stunt Car Racer + anything Skid-Row released (of course).
TE: The site’s tone – bullish, energetic, a little arrogant – harks back to your Skid Row days. Is D-Man2010 a larger-than-life character?
DM: I’m pretty much an angry person. Back from when I wrote Lamer News, for all the scene wars that were going on when I was a teenager, I always went for the attack rather than compromise.
TE: Do Film Update List users regularly get in touch?
DM: I get about 120 emails a week. Everything from death threats to marriage proposals.
TE: What annoys you about other pirate movie sites?
DM: Nobodies who wouldn’t know an upload if their life depended on it. Any one of the dumb Canadian moderators on the new movie forums who have banned me for life because I dared to question the sense in stopping mild swearing and any criticism of anything. For god’s sake it’s a pirate movie site, not a f**king 4th rate council office!
TE: Why do you have the Anti-Piracy Museum on your site?
DM: Someone needed to say it. It just angers me beyond belief that you have an anti- piracy “Industry” getting rich with ex police officers who see it as an “Easy Ride” or a “Golden Handshake”.
D-Man2010’s anger on this point is vehement. In our correspondence, he repeatedly returns to his belief that aging police officers, often without any relevant experience, lead UK anti-piracy initiatives and target those “right at the bottom of the food chain”.
This anger is deeply linked to D-Man2010’s experience of being charged with piracy. It turns out he’s happy to talk about it, but it’s a complicated tale, one that involves three different UK agencies pursuing three different charges – including “Telephonery Fraud” – none of which stuck due to lack of evidence (D-Man2010 claims he has no criminal record). During these explanations, there’s a lot of blazing invective aimed at John Loader, the head of what was then FAST and one of the seven people who apparently burst into D-Man2010’s bedroom to arrest him when he was 15.
When I put forward the argument that game and movie piracy genuinely affects the talented and creative people who make this stuff, D-Man2010 takes a sharp left turn into a passionate and legally problematic rant that has the flavor of a personal vendetta. (Maybe it is personal – Loader himself name checked D-Man2010 in an article he wrote for the The Sunday Times newspaper.)
I get the sense he would agree to talk on the phone – hell, he once hacked into NASA’s servers live on TV for a respected UK documentary series – but I want to maintain a certain sense of distance. Late one Saturday night, though, I email some follow-up questions, and get a rapid, chatty response.
TE: Why did you stop playing games?
DM: I just grew out of them. Got more of a buzz releasing Amiga games than playing them. The last year of having an Amiga I didn’t even own a joystick.
TE: As a pirate, what advice would you give the anti-piracy industry?
DM: a) Screen coating that prevents camcording, which is commercially available in the far east. The result in trying to record the screen is a white glare/glow on the camcorder – that would be the 1st thing.
b) Film companies should immediately detach themselves from the MPAA & FACT respectfully and employ in-house anti-piracy teams specializing in stopping the spread of their own films. The MPAA & FACT are anachronistic parodies of themselves.
TE: I should have asked this in the first place: WHY do you do it?
DM: Because I can. If the guy who posted/uploaded the highest amount of films (3500) on the world’s fastest pirate forum Movie Forumz (B4 it went down) and runs the fastest stand alone film site on the planet is blatantly criticizing and taking the piss out of the anti-piracy “Industry” – and furthermore doing interviews about it; I think it says far more about the state of them than it does me, wouldn’t you say?
Around the time of our last contact, a new-ish film called The Escapist was uploaded on Film Update List. Was this a sly nod from D-Man2010? Had he already hacked into my computer? I was starting to get a bit paranoid – this guy had, after all, phoned the Queen. I needed out. I couldn’t publicly condone D-Man2010’s activities. Sure, his site would have allowed me to see the arthouse horror Baghead, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq drama The Hurt Locker and Rod Lurie’s latest political polemic Nothing But The Truth (all films currently without a UK distributor). But I was increasingly concerned that in interviewing D-Man2010 I might mythologize his outlaw status. Then I realized that D-Man2010 is as enamoured with the actual act of pirating as he is with the image of himself as a pirate. It’s not about a love of games or even a love of movies for D-Man2010, it is about taunting the next big authority figure, waving his pirate flag in their face. He had, as he said, grown out of the videogame scene and moved on to the MPAA, a centralized organization far easier to perturb than the splintered videogame publishers. I needn’t have worried about accidentally glorifying this digital Blackbeard; his life’s work is mythologizing himself.
Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer based in Scotland. He started 2009 pretending to be Yoshi, but will always be Raphael at heart. How boring!