The Scene (Release Scene) is an underground community of people that specialize in the distribution of warez: copyrighted material, including television shows and series, movies, music, music videos, games, applications, ebooks, and pornography. The Scene is meant to be hidden from the public, only being shared with those within the community. However, as files were commonly leaked outside the community and their popularity grew, some individuals from The Scene began leaking files and uploading them to filehosts or torrents sites. These days, scene releases are leaked within seconds after pretime, because the complete distribution to filehosters or BitTorrent sites is fully automated by scripts.
Here is an example release from the group FairLight:
While in the 80s the boards were still the scene’s hubs, the distribution of new releases within today’s scene takes place via so-called FTP servers. On these powerful computers, which are filled with data from the home computer, the scene-internal exchange of warez takes place. Within the scene there are a lot of such FTP servers, which are also called sites in the scene. They are protected by passwords and access to them is restricted to a minimum of members. Large sites usually receive the latest releases immediately after they are released. Access to them is therefore most sought after. Smaller servers receive the warez some time later.
For example, as soon as a release group has cracked a new game, it places the copy it has made on one or more of these FTP servers. Sites on which a release group first releases its warez are known in the scene as HQ (headquarters). They also often publish their warez on servers operated by other members of the scene. This is to ensure that their releases can be quickly distributed throughout the scene. Even groups that cannot afford to operate their own FTP servers financially are provided with storage space by friendly groups or scene members. This kind of cooperation, called affil in the scene, offers advantages for both sides.
On the one hand, smaller release groups no longer have to purchase their own server. Furthermore, the distribution of releases is better secured if they are available to the scene on several sites. On the other hand, the operators of the FTP servers, called site ops (site operators) in the scene, also benefit. If they can gain a release group as an affil, this increases the reputation of their server. Now all releases of their partner groups can be published on their site first.
From here the releases are distributed by certain members of the scene, called couriers or traders. These have the task to copy the files from one FTP server of the scene to another. Even if this activity does not seem to be very demanding, it is essential for the scene. If there were not enough couriers to take over the task of spreading, it would no longer be possible to distribute the commodity nationwide. A new release would perhaps still be spread over a few sites, but then quickly falter. Just as a newspaper is dependent on its deliverers, the scene needs the Courier.
To ensure a smooth distribution of copies, the scene has managed to make itself independent of the whims of its members. The old principle of ratio is still valid. Already in the boards of the cracker scene the members could not simply leechen the warez (download). They first had to upload a certain amount of data onto the board. This ratio system was originally developed due to the limited capacity of earlier boards when telephone lines were scarce. Although the current resources of the Internet make such a system superfluous, the scene is still characterized by the idea of active participation. The ratio principle can still be found in all Warez subcultures today. Only those who give something may take something.
For every new copy that a scene member uploads to a site, he or she receives a certain amount of credits. The amount depends on the size of the transferred file. The credits are the official currency of the release scene. In exchange for these credits, a member can fetch files from the FTP servers. The files range from games, movies and music to text documents, pictures and much more.
The release scene benefits from the fact that files no longer have to be stored temporarily on the member’s own computer before being transferred to other FTP servers. Often they can also be copied directly from one site to another. Since the transfer speeds between the servers are very high, large amounts of data can be copied from one FTP server to another within seconds. If, for example, you transfer a computer game from your own hard disk to a server, this can sometimes take hours. Copying the same game from one site to another, on the other hand, only takes a few moments. This type of copying is called flashing in the scene.
From time to time almost every member of the scene acts as a courier. Be it because his credit account is approaching zero, or just to pass the time. Most of the Couriers known in the scene are completely absorbed in their role and do their job with great enthusiasm. Even in the board era, uploading files to the scene’s systems was a competition in its own right. Just as the release groups fight for a first release, Courier compete for the fastest distribution of releases. They are in a digital high-speed race and always try to be the first to upload a new release to a scene’s FTP server. The constant back and forth of files and the fight for the most credits is called racing.
There are even own courier groups that compete with others. Their performances are recorded in rankings and commented on in special publications available by e-mail. Not infrequently, the writing style is reminiscent of articles in sports magazines. “This group could really come out on top now that devotion is waning. Still, a rather weak week for them. I expect a much stronger performance from them in the coming weeks,” says an issue of the Courier Weektop Scorecard, for example.
The logistical backbone of the release scene consists of about thirty particularly powerful sites, the so-called top sites. Only the latest warez is deposited on these servers. The operators of top sites often have access to networks of institutions, where large volumes of data are not further noticeable. Here they set up a computer as a server for the scene. In return for their commitment, they usually also get access to other scene servers. “Some admins at universities have special accounts so that they tolerate top sites in their own network. In one case, the Site Op was an employee of a cleaning company that also had access to universities. There he is said to have deposited his computer in a cupboard. Another one even operated his top site at a Berlin university,” reports scene member Predator.
Similar to the release groups, the top sites also bear sonorous names such as “Valhalla”, “Anathema” or “Labyrinth”. And as with all other FTP servers in the scene, access to them is strictly limited. Outsiders hardly have a chance to see a top site. The operators use various encryption techniques and access restrictions so that top sites can only be accessed by insiders.
The transmission of data on topsites is usually carried out via modern fibre optic cables. The transmission speed there is 100 to 1,000 times higher than that of a DSL Internet connection. Copying a new film from one top site to another therefore takes only seconds. In addition, topsites have enormous storage capacities. While an average computer has a hard disk with 1 terabyte of storage space, topsites often have a capacity of more than 20 terabytes, which corresponds to more than 20,000 gigabytes.