About The Pirate Book






This work offers a broad view on media piracy as well as a variety of comparative perspectives on recent issues and historical facts regarding piracy. It contains a compilation of texts on grass­roots situations whose stories describe strategies developed to share, distribute and experience cultural content outside of the confines of local economies, politics or laws. These stories recount the experiences of individuals from India, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Mali and China. The book is structured in four parts and begins with a collection of stories on piracy dating back to the invention of the printing press and expanding to broader issues (historical and modern anti­piracy technologies, geographically­ specific issues, as well as the rules of the Warez scene, its charters, structure and visual culture…).


CONTACT & PROPOSAL ping[at]thepiratecinema.com


EDITED BY Nicolas Maigret & Maria Roszkowska


CONTRIBUTORS Jota Izquierdo,

Christopher Kirkley, Marie Lechner,

Pedro Mizukami, Ernesto Oroza,

Clément Renaud, Ishita Tiwary,

Ernesto Van der Sar, Michaël Zumstein


DESIGN Maria Roszkowska




PUBLISHED BY Aksioma, Ljubljana

PRODUCED WITH Pavillon Vendôme, Clichy



In partnership with Abandon Normal Devices, Kunsthal Aarhus & Neural Magazine / Supported by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, the Municipality of Ljubljana and the Municipality of Clichy, France. The Pirate Book was released in the framework of Masters & Servers www.mastersandservers.org
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.




thepiratebook.net - 2015


Introduction by Marie Lechner,

journalist & researcher





The Pirate Book by Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska is both a visual essay and anthology, written in the wake of the Jolly Roger’s infamous skull and crossbones and compiled during its journey across the four corners of the world. In this book, the authors invite us to shift our perspective on piracy itself. This polyphonic work constitutes an attempt at probing the ambiguity inherent to piracy and at re-evaluating the issues related to it. The Pirate Book, moreover, signifies a departure from the one-sided approach adopted by the cultural industries which consists in designating the figure of the pirate as public enemy number 1. Intellectual property was, in fact, called into existence in order to ward off those that Cicero, in his time, called “the common enemy of all.” At the outset, intellectual property’s purpose was to protect authorship and promote innovation; however, it eventually hindered technological progress and encouraged cultural products, which had hitherto belonged to the public domain, to be snatched away from it.
This book arises from a previous installation-performance by Nicolas Maigret, The Pirate Cinema, where the artist visualizes the covert exchange of films in real time at dazzling speed under the cover of worldwide peer-to-peer networks. The advent of the Internet and its users’ unbridled file sharing capability on peer-to-peer networks has resulted in an unprecedented proliferation of illegal downloading since the 1990s. This situation also very quickly led to online piracy being singled out as the primary cause of the crises affecting the music and film industries, whereas certain other voices deemed piracy to be the scapegoat of the cultural sector that had not managed to properly negotiate the transformations it underwent following the onset of the digital era.





The term piracy more generally designated the unauthorized usage or reproduction of copyright or patent-protected material. This is almost a far cry from the word’s original etymology. “The word piracy derives from a distant Indo-European root meaning a trial or attempt, or (presumably by extension) an experience or experiment,” writes Adrian Johns in Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates in which he highlights the fact that “It is an irony of history that in the distant past it meant something so close to the creativity to which it is now reckoned antithetical.” The Pirate Book endeavours to gain an insight into this very creativity. By calling on the contributions of artists, researchers, militants and bootleggers, this book brings together a large variety of anecdotes and accounts of local and specific experiences from Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, China, India, and Mali, all of which foreground the lived, personal and perceived aspects of such experiences. Despite the legal arsenal that has unfurled as well as the economic and political restrictions in place, The Pirate Book provides an illustration of the vitality of pirate (or peer-ate) culture. A culture that arose from necessity rather than convenience. A culture that has devised ingenious strategies to circumvent the armoury in place in order to share, distribute, and appropriate cultural content and thereby corroborate Adrian Johns’ view that “piracy has been an engine of social, technological, and intellectual innovations as often as it has been their adversary.” The author of Piracy believes that “the history of piracy is the history of modernity.”





The concept of intellectual piracy is inherited from the English Revolution (1660 – 80) and, more specifically, from the book trade. The Pirate Book is, as its name suggests, a book. An e-book, to be precise; a format that at the time of publication is currently very popular due to the development of tablets and readers. The increase in illegally available content that is concomitant with the growth of the e-book sector has raised fears that this sector will be doomed to the same fate as the film and music industries. By way of example, Michel Houellebecq’s latest blockbuster novel Soumission was pirated two weeks prior to its release. This marked the first incident of its kind in France. The arrival of the first printing press in England in the 1470s brought about the reinforcement of intellectual property rights regarding books. More specifically, this was achieved by way of monopolies granted by the Crown to the guild of printers and booksellers that was in charge of regulating and punishing those who illegally reprinted books. In 1710, the London guild obtained the Statute of Anne, the first law to recognize author’s rights, but also to limit copyright (which until then had been unlimited under the guild) to 14 years, with a possible extension if the author was still alive. The Pirate Book places side by side the Statute of Anne with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the American copyright law of 1998 that aimed at curbing the new threats posed by the generalisation of the Internet. The Pirate Book revisits some of the milestones of this history of piracy, by juxtaposing and comparing an image from the past with its contemporary counterpart. Such is the case with the musical score of Stephen Adams’ Victorian ballad, The Holy City, that became the most “pirated” song of its time towards the end of the 19th century and is presented opposite the album, Nothing Was the Same, by the Canadian rapper Drake that became the most pirated album of the 21st century (it was illegally downloaded more than ten millions times). Despite being the nation that ostensibly spearheads the war on piracy, the United States was at its inception a “pirate nation” given its refusal to observe the rights of foreign authors. In the absence of international copyright treaties, the first American governments actively encouraged the piracy of the classics of British literature in order to promote literacy. The grievances of authors such as Charles Dickens fell upon deaf ears, that is until American literature itself came into its own and authors such as Mark Twain convinced the government to reinforce copyright legislation.





The article “Piracy, Creativity and Infrastructure: Rethinking Access to Culture,” in which the Indian legal expert Lawrence Liang situates the issue of the piracy of cultural artefacts in emerging economies, also rejects the narrow view of piracy as a solely illicit activity and goes on to depict it as an infrastructure providing access to culture. The abundantly illustrated stories brought together in The Pirate Book all inform this notion by inviting the reader to shift perspective. As described by the researcher and legal expert Pedro Mizukami, the emergence of bootlegged video rentals and consoles in Brazil was directly linked to the country’s industrial policies of the 1980s which aimed at closing the Brazilian market to imports in order to stimulate the growth of local productions, some of which were exorbitantly priced. Cuba’s isolation by the US embargo since 1962 and its ensuing inability to procure basic resources provided a fertile ground for audio-visual piracy on the part, among others, of the government itself in order to supply its official television channels with content as well as to provide its universities with books, as highlighted by the designer and artist Ernesto Oroza. Despite being poorly equipped, Cubans are able to get their hands on the latest action films, TV series, or music video thanks to a weekly, underground compilation of digital content called El Paquete Semanal that is downloaded by the rare Cubans who own a computer (around 5% of the population has Internet access) and sold on a hard drive that can be plugged directly into a TV. The downloaders of Fankélé Diarra Street in Bamako, who are the subject of Michaël Zumstein’s photographs, employ the same system of streetwise savvy. They exchange the latest music releases on their cell phones via Bluetooth, thus forming an ad hoc “African iTunes” where you can pick up the files offline in the street. This small-timer operation is also a must for local musicians to raise their profile.





Liang claims that piracy makes cultural products otherwise inaccessible to most of the population available to the greatest number of users, but also offers the possibility of an “infrastructure for cultural production.” The case of the parallel film industry based in Malegaon is literally a textbook case. The Indian researcher Ishita Tiwary tackles the case study of this small backwater of central India that has arisen thanks to an infrastructure created by media piracy and the proliferation of video rentals. Using the same mode of operation as Nollywood in Nigeria, people seize the opportunities provided by cheap technology in order to make “remakes of Bollywood successes” by adapting the content to the realities of the target audience’s lives. Servile replication, one of the objections often levelled at piracy, then gives way to “creative transformation” according to Lawrence Liang’s own terms. Another noteworthy example is the Chinese village of Dafen that is notorious for its painters who specialize in producing copies of well-known paintings. Dafen has now become home to a market for Chinese artists selling original works, which just goes to show how “A quasi-industrial process of copying masters has led to the emergence of a local scene.”  This same process is aptly described by Clément Renaud, a researcher and artist, who took an interest in Shanzhai culture (literally meaning “mountain stronghold”), the flourishing counterfeiting economy of China, a country whose non-observance of copyright law is decried worldwide. “When you have no resources, no proper education system and no mentors at your disposal, then you just learn from your surroundings: you copy, you paste, you reproduce, you modify, you struggle – and you eventually improve,” resumes Clément Renaud by noting the rapid versatility and resourcefulness of these small-scale Chinese companies when faced with the demands of the global market. These “pirates [work] secretly (…) in remote factories, they have built a vast system for cooperation and competition. They shared plans, news, retro-engineering results and blueprints on instant messaging groups,” observes the researcher for whom this form of collaboration is reminiscent of open-source systems.





Computer-based piracy was originally a means of distributing, testing, and getting to grips with technologies amongst a small group of users. It was indeed not too dissimilar from the type of group activity that brought into existence the free software movement. It was a commonplace occurrence to supply your friends and colleagues with a copy of software. Clubs formed and began to learn the basics of computer programming by decoding software programmes to the great displeasure of the then infant IT industry, as attested by Bill Gates’ infamous letter of 1976 that The Pirate Book has exhumed and which denounces amateur IT practitioners for sharing the BASIC programme created by his fledgling company Altair. IT manufacturers made a concerted effort to shift the original meaning of the word hacker (which until that time had been associated with a positive form of DIY) that was then conflated with cracker which translates as “pirate.” The view underpinning this semantic shift was later adopted by the cultural industries with regards to P2P users, and is analysed by Vincent Mabillot. This privatisation of the code and the creation of software protection mechanisms led users to rebel by cracking digital locks and by fostering anti-corporate ideas in the name of free access. At a time when commercial software and IT net-works gained momentum and complexity, a more or less independently instituted division of labour emerged among specialised pirates who belonged to what is termed The Scene. The Scene is the source of most pirated content that is made publicly available and then disseminated via IRC, P2P, and other file sharing services used by the general public. The Scene comprises, amongst others, small autonomous groups of pirates who compete to be the first to secure and release the pirated version of digital content. The Pirate Book sheds light on the modus operandi and iconography of this Warez culture (the term designates the illicit activities of disseminating copyright protected digital content) from which the content consumed online in the most well connected countries originates and which is subsequently resold at heavily discounted prices at stalls across the globe.






In the context of this continual game of hide and seek, the cultural industries have proven to be surprisingly creative in the strategies they employ to combat piracy as substantiated by the documents on display in this book: from educational flyers to intimidation, from hologram stickers to game alterations, from false TV signal detectors (mysterious vans equipped with weird and wonderful antenna that are supposed to strike fear in the hearts of those who have not paid their TV licence) to show trials such as the 2009 high-profile case of the Swedish founders of the emblematic peer-to-peer platform, The Pirate Bay. Pirate or “privateer” tactics are even employed by certain corporations. These tactics include torrent poisoning which consists in sharing data that has been corrupted or files with misleading names on purpose. In this particular case, the reader is at liberty to copy the texts of this book and do with them as he/she pleases. The book’s authors (editors?) have opted for copyleft, a popular alternative to copyright. The term copyleft was brought into popular usage by Richard Stallman who founded the freeware movement and refers to an authorization to use, alter and share the work provided that the authorization itself remains untouched. Pirates’ challenging and transgression of the conventions of intellectual property have become a form of resistance to the ever increasing surveillance of users of digital technologies by corporate and state interests. In doing so, pirates have opened the way to new “perspectives of counter-societies that work along different lines.”



The Pirate Book makes its own particular contribution to this debate by painting a different picture, one embedded in the geographic realities of piracy, of these frequently scorned practices. In the same way that piracy itself is difficult to pinpoint, this book endeavours to capture the breadth of the phenomenon through images and accounts garnered online. It combines the global and the hyper local, states of being on and offline, anecdotes and immersion, poetic references, and technical decryption, thereby eschewing conventional categories used to classify publications. The Pirate Book is indeed neither an artist book, nor an academic dissertation, nor an archive, nor a forecast study. It is a blend of all of the latter and forms a prolific guide that can be read as much as it can be looked at. By focusing on situations, objects, documents, and individuals, this work enables us to envision the potential for future cross-purpose practices that could emerge in a networked society.

thepiratebook.net - 2015

El Paquete Semanal – Cuba

by Ernesto Oroza | designer & artist

Images by Ernesto Oroza





Cuba is a Caribbean country ruled since 1959 by a self-declared communist regime that came to power through armed struggle. The expropriation and nationalization measures implemented by the new government in the early years of the revolution resulted in a severe conflict of interest with the United States. As a result, John F. Kennedy declared in 1962 a commercial and financial embargo on the island, which is still in force (2015). Informational isolation and inaccessibility to basic resources and goods have characterized daily life in Cuba for over 50 years. For decades the government itself has practiced audiovisual piracy to supply materials to the official television channels. In the universities of the country, hundreds of books and international periodical publications have been pirated to meet the educational and informational needs of students.


Books distributed to the students by the Institute of

Design in Havana (originals and pirate copies)





It all started maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I remember that my nephew was the first one in the family doing it. He had a little USB hard drive, and one day he got a large quantity of films from a neighbor – things such as National Geographic nature documentaries, music, action films, and video clips. Computers were rare in Cuba at the time. You could find maybe one computer on each block. Some people who had computers started collecting and selling kits of digital contents; it became a way to earn money. You could buy one terabyte of contents, connect the hard drive directly to a television, and watch it without any computer. You just needed to bring your own hard drive to the seller and transfer the files at his place. You could even customize the package by asking for a part of it only (to save money) or for more specific contents (only kung fu movies, TV shows, games, music, etc.). Today, El Paquete could include series, films, soap operas (people love Korean soap operas right now), documentaries, music, video clips, reality shows, graphic humor, comics and cartoons, software, apps, antivirus software, language courses, magazines in PDF format, advertising, and an offline version of Revolico, among other materials. The contents for each issue of El Paquete are usually collected from online sources. Some foreigners and people connected to foreign companies, embassies, or consulates have satellite antennas in their houses, and some people have illegal satellite antennas too. Maybe the creators of El Paquete are people working for the government in official institutions with large digital bandwidth that allows downloading long videos and music compilations. The fact is that somebody is recording the materials, transferring them onto hard drives, and preparing a new compilation every week (El Paquete Semanal, “The Weekly Package”). There’s also extensive clandestine traffic of digital devices between Cuba and Miami. This includes USB flash drives and hard drives, but some cultural content for El Paquete is also transported this way. The cost of a full El Paquete is about 1 CUC (24-25 Cuban pesos), so in terms of local income, it’s expensive given that the average monthly salary is between 15 and 20 CUC a month.


But in Cuba quite often multiple generations live in the same house: grandparents, parents, and children. So the expense of a single copy of El Paquete is often shared among the extended family. For those who distribute the package, the cost, if acquired directly from the matrix, varies according to the day on which it was bought between 10.00 CUC and 3.00 CUC, Sunday being the most expensive. These dealers cross the city by bike and have dozens of clients who spend 10 CUC weekly. Now there is new street vendor license available named “Disk Seller and Buyer,” so many people are selling partial contents of El Paquete using DVDs and CDs, especially series, video clips, and international soap operas.





El Paquete became a big problem in Cuba because the government is particularly afraid of this mode of content distribution. According to the authorities, not only is it out of control and promotes contamination by American culture, its artistic/intellectual level is also quite low, as it’s full of American blockbusters and Mexican soap operas. The government claims that Cubans instead need educational material for young people, something that is good for the new generation, not films with sex or violence. Nevertheless, I remember that for many years every Saturday at 9 p.m. you could watch two or three pirated American movies on national television, blockbusters like Die Hard for example. People loved it, and it was common to say in a conversation that something was like  “Saturday’s film,” meaning that it had sex and violence. But when the phenomena of El Paquete started, the real preoccupation of the government wasn’t the artistic quality of its content, but politics; they didn’t want it to be used for spreading information against the government. This USB package was spontaneous, unpredictable, and impossible to control. Of course it quickly became illegal; if you were caught selling it, you could go to prison or the government could confiscate your computer. But some other methods to stop El Paquete were also tested. One example was the creation of a direct rival: the authorities made their own Paquete named Maletín or Mochila, which means a “bag” or “backpack” in English. Inside, instead of US blockbusters, you could find classical movies and music and educational materials. Actually, people found it very boring and nobody liked it, so this anti-Paquete system was a total failure. And of course it was just as pirated as the clandestine one: the government did not pay for its contents either; it was all “stolen.”



Another attempt involved the creation of anti-Paquete propaganda: I remember a very dramatic report on the TV news about computer virus attacks all over the world that showed USB and El Paquete iconography and claimed that hackers could use these viruses to steal your information or destroy your computer. Another faction of the government, mostly intellectuals, are proposing to contaminate El Paquete with cultural contents, I guess Godard, Glauber Rocha, and Bergman, but for many this will be an extension of the indoctrination that Cubans have endured for more than 50 years through information, education, and cultural systems. Anyway, before the government pro-posed it, some cultural producers such as reggaeton singers, filmmakers, designers and editors, among others, began using El Paquete for the distribution of their works and activities. There are even some original materials created specifically for this distribution channel. There are many local bands which created video clips especially for El Paquete: national television does not promote them and YouTube is banned, so they use El Paquete for distribution and promotion (e.g., La Diosa “El Paquete”, with a strong message: “If you’re not inside the Paquete, you don’t exist!”).

El_Paquete - La Diosa




Revolico is the Cuban version of Craigslist, a website where people can directly publish small ads to sell or exchange different kinds of goods and services: cars, jobs, clothes, animals, electronics, etc. The problem is that people need to have access to the Internet to use it, and in Cuba it’s mostly impossible. People in Cuba love and need Revolico because it’s the only way to exchange materials, information, and goods. So Revolico went inside El Paquete as a list of small ads. In a recent interview I conducted with the creators of Revolico, Hiram (a co-founder) explained that they are now working on a new offline version of this platform that will be ready soon to take advantage of the El Paquete distribution system.





Today, in Cuba more and more people have computers and other electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones, but home Internet and Wi-Fi access remains forbidden unless you have special permission from the Ministry of Communications (recently the government opened 35 points with public Wi-Fi around the country with a cost of 2 CUC per hour, and service is limited). As a consequence, there is a new phenomenon called SNet (Street Net), a sort of clandestine network. At the beginning young people started to use telephone cables to connect computers in the neighborhood in order to play games in a network. Later, they found a way to connect the computers using Wi-Fi. Today, this network consists of about 10,000 computers. The police also access the system to monitor the flux of information. The government warns that if you share counter-revolutionary material or other forbidden content, it will break the whole SNet system. Despite this, SNet has become one of the main avenues for playing collective games and information distribution. Besides SNet, there is also a governmental Internet, a very slow and monitored intranet. Every e-mail that is written in Cuba is tracked by the political police. There are many systems to monitor key words. Some government employees or institutions have a faster and more direct Internet connection, with access to Yahoo, Hotmail, etc., but it’s still impossible to access other big international platforms such as YouTube and Google Maps. Recently, I collaborated with some SNet administrators to test the possibilities of the net. We designed a small program and inserted it to produce a collective poem based in the exquisite corpse method. We got a poem of 3,000 words in just a week, meaning that many users of SNet were involved.


thepiratebook.net - 2015

Marakka 2000 in Cuba

by Ernesto Oroza | artist & designer

Excerpts from Marakka 2012, a documentary

by Magdiel Aspillaga and Ernesto Oroza, 2012





Since 1983, Waldo Fernandez “Marakka”, who arrived in Miami as part the Mariel exodus (1980), has been assembling an archive of Cuban audiovisual memory. The collection, which functions commercially under the “Marakka 2000” brand, relies on and exploits a loophole created by current Cuba – USA diplomatic relations, and is sustained by a precise and astute understanding of current procedures regarding the protection of copyright in the USA. Each generation of emigrants has put its nostalgic claims to the archive, which has more than 14,000 objects. Waldo has processed all this material in order to add new credits, remove sensitive copyright issues, and even re-edit the dramaturgical time and pace of serials and soap operas in order to adjust them for suitable commercial formats. The pinnacle of the archive lies in the documentaries that Waldo himself has directed and edited using video clips and sounds from his collection.





“It all began in 1983, a long time ago, as a result of nostalgia. One day, a man told me, ‘Hey, I have a Cuban film here.’ And I said to myself, ‘Wow! A Cuban film in the United States?’ It was The Man from Maisinicu. Then, I was overcome with nostalgia and I wanted to watch the movie. I had been in the U.S. for three years, and I was feeling a little bit homesick. “Back then, it was not like today when you can easily make a copy. I had to rent a VCR to make a copy of the video, a very bad copy by the way. It was so bad that you almost needed to include signs to recognize actors. But I watched it, and I felt homesick. Then, I said to myself, ‘If this happened to me that I don’t want to hear anything about Cuba, then everyone can feel homesick.”



“I’m an automotive electrician by trade. Cinema was a hobby for me. And, as I said before, I was overcome with nostalgia for Cuba, and I was eager to know and watch things about Cuba and to collect them. It was in the mid eighties when I realized that there was a business at hand, not only with Cuban films but also with Spanish, French, or any other movies that people watched in Cuba.”



“When I brought the first movie, I was a bit scared. I bought it in Puerto Rico. It was Se Permuta (House Swap). I bought hundreds of these movies in Puerto Rico. At first I was hesitant, but I sold them all in only one day. They would buy 20 and even 30 at the same time, and I said to myself, ‘What is this?’ It was then that I realized that there was a very good business in that. So, I started to get Cuban movies, and I sold more films from Cuba than from any other country. Se permuta was followed by Los pájaros tirándole a la escopeta (Birds Shooting the Shotgun), and the rest is history. I continued selling Cuban movies, and it was tremendous. And it is because of nostalgia that I began collecting things. Then, in 1987, I decided to sell my workshop, and I dedicated myself entirely to the film business. But, the time came when I reached the conclusion that it was better to sell only because today, once you rent something, they can make 10,000 copies just like I make them, and then it’s not a good business for me.”



“Normally, films came in VHS, the old video format. Later, I could get them in ¾-inch cassettes or 1-inch tapes. Then, with the arrival of DVD, everything was digitalized, and some other things we are getting in better quality. For example, some materials we had in VHS we managed to get in other countries with impeccable digital quality. That’s how the archive has been improving, and I can tell you that my archive is quite big. There’s not a similar one in the United States or in the rest of the world. Marakka has more than 14 or 16 thousand movies and documentaries from all over the world.”





“Legally, I can have all these archives, and I can make as many copies as I want. I mean, there’s something called ‘public domain.’ The movies are not copyrighted in their entirety; the movies that were shot in Cuba 40 or 50 years are not copyrighted here in the United States. There are also co-productions between Cuba and other countries such as France, Spain, or Germany, for example, which are not copyrighted in the United States either, even though they were registered in Spain. Paying copyright fees to Cuba would be a violation of the embargo, the Torricelli Act, and other laws. So, it’s like an Internal Revenue Service inspector once told me: ‘We know who you are and what you do. You steal in an honorable way.’ And that’s what I do.”



“You have a deadline to register a movie. You can register a movie now that was made 30 years ago, but it should not be like that because you have 6 months to register it, a movie, a book, anything – you have 6 months to do it. If you don’t do in that period of time, it becomes part of the public domain, and, if you register it later, you have to notify me and then, only after that, I have to respect the copyright. Unfortunately, Cuba does not respect anything. Throughout the years, Cuba has never respected copyrights, and we are only doing what they do. “There’s the case of many American films that are in the public domain, but they have, for example, the lion of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios. So, perhaps the movie is not registered, but the lion is. In that case, you eliminate the lion and you can use the movie. “You make a film in the United States, and you don’t register it. However, the Copyright Office automatically gives you the copyright because you made it. But, if I make a copy of it, you can’t do anything against me because you have not registered it. For you to be able to sue me, you have to register it first, and then, after that date, I don’t make any more copies. “I don’t see myself as a pirate because I have rescued sort of a culture here. In Cuba they might say that I’m a pirate because I make copies of anything that Cuba could profit from here in the United States. But, these things that I do against Cuba and in my favor are not illegal. I know I’m stealing; I know I did not make them, but the law protects me because these movies are not copyrighted in the United States.”



“Although I’m probably the biggest pirate here according to the people, I have also been affected by piracy because, for example, if I get a new Cuban movie now and I try to sell in on the street, I don’t sell more than 10. So, I don’t waste my time trying to sell them to video stores. What’s the use of it if, once they buy one from me, the next day you can find it all over the stores and even in the flea market for just 3 dollars? And that hurts. But, I also did it, and when I did it, I used to sell hundreds and thousands of copies. Today, anyone has 4 little machines in their stores, and they record and make copies of anything, and you can’t fight against that. I can’t fight against it. “There are things that people don’t copy for ethical reasons. But, in general, people copy everything. Marakka is not the only one who makes copies. There are 200 Marakkas in Miami. And, as the saying goes, the law is made to be broken. First, they invented the Macrovision copy protection system, but soon others came up with an anti-Macrovision machine. And the same goes for the DVDs. Everything can be pirated. “People come here and they buy documentaries, sometimes the ones I made. And they ask me: ‘Can we copy it?’ I look at them and I tell them: ‘No, you should not.’ But if you can copy it, even though I told you that you shouldn’t do it, you can do whatever you want with it after you buy it. There’s nothing on the face of the earth that cannot be copied.”





“I was watching a movie and I saw the logo of Marakka, Marakka 2000, and I liked it. Then I checked it and it was not registered. So, I registered it and that’s the origin of the name. After that, Marakka was a success. People loved it. And sometimes they would tell me, ‘You will not get to the year 2000.’ But, it’s already 2011 and Marakka still exists.”





“I make most of the covers. There are designs, photos that I take from the original pictures. Most of them are in English, so I change them to Spanish. I do it myself or someone working with me does it. It’s very easy to make a cover. I have made thousands and, on other occasions, I can also take a picture directly from the film and I use it as a cover.”





“There are three volumes. The first one is from the old Cuban newscasts. It’s the only remaining color film material of Cuban panoramic views of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, all before 1959. And the rest I got it from people who have traveled to Cuba, of movies that include parts of different landscapes. And then you get a piece from here and a piece from there, you edit it, and you make it like that, splicing them. “The first one was made during the time of the video cassette and the others, many years later, as a compilation. Cubans of all ages are the ones who buy this. You go to a fair that is held once every year, the Cuba Nostalgia convention, and there you can see very old people, even 80-year-olds, and very young ones too. Some of them go because they are overcome with nostalgia for what they didn’t know and some others because they feel homesick. So, people of all ages buy these materials until the present day.”





“I call it ‘chopped film’ because first you choose a topic and then, out of the existing millions of movies, you have to extract excerpt by excerpt and splice them all in a one-theme material. That’s what I call ‘chopped film.’ What I did was the chopping. I took excerpt by excerpt. And this you can see in La Habana de los años 50 (The Havana of the 1950s) and in Cuba: Peligro en el Caribe (Cuba: Danger in the Caribbean). First, I have the idea of what I want to do and then I look for the material. I might be editing already and I remember that there is an excerpt in a film that could be useful and then I include it or change it. I know exactly which movie has what I need. For instance, you ask me for a man killing a lion. I have 17,000 films. I have thousands of the jungle, of Tarzan; there has to be a man killing a lion in one of them.”





“Sometimes there are movies with their beginnings missing, so I include it. For example, if they were made by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), I add a screen reading ‘The Cuban Film Institute…’ and I add some music as well, so that they have a decent beginning. And I do the same with movies from anywhere in the world, with westerns, anything. And some others lack their final credits, and I add a sign ‘The End’ and some music, something like that.
I get rid of many scenes. I call them ‘stupid material.’ For example, if there’s a woman walking in the countryside, looking at the sky, and it goes on for minutes, I take it out. In soap operas, I eliminate the credits of each episode because, if they are in the first one and in the end, what’s the use of having them again, and again, and again? I edit them as if it were a movie and that’s how you eliminate material that doesn’t need to be there.
I have a lot of ‘rotten movies.’ Well, by ‘rotten’ I mean that they are very poor quality; they are very old movies, VHS films, with tracking, not digital. So, you get them with better quality, digital. But, perhaps somebody made a digital copy with a different name. Then, what you do is put its real name, the one it is registered under. I call ‘rotten’ all the material of very poor quality.”


thepiratebook.net - 2015

Pirate Game Consoles in Brazil

Brazil, 80s & 90s

by Pedro Mizukami, researcher,

co-coordinator of the Brazilian components of

the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” project




Under the import substitution policy put in place in the early 80s, the Brazilian market was closed, and we could only get official machines through contraband, so local companies started to mass-produce clone machines. The earliest memory that I have of this involves the Nintendo Entertainment System. First came the Dynavision II by Dynacom (1989) and then the Phantom System by Gradiente (1990), probably the most popular NES clone, released right at the end of the import substitution policy. So alongside software piracy and pirated cartridges, we also had unlicensed pirate machines produced in Brazil. It was much cheaper to buy contraband machines than to buy the officially licensed, domestically assembled ones. Gradiente had an official license for the cartridges it commercialized, but it also treated unlicensed pirated cartridges under a different company name. They would officially release their licensed material for the unlicensed machines, but they would also produce unlicensed content. The pirated hardware and cartridge were mostly cross compatible; you could use an adaptor to load Japanese cartridges, and of course cartridges that you rented could be pirated or genuine.





What is interesting is that there were local customizations of video games, even with official and licensed games. Tec Toy, for instance, would produce versions of games with characters that were popular in Brazil at the time. We had a very popular series of comic books called Turma da Mônica, Monica’s Gang in English. Tec Toy produced versions of games using characters from Turma da Mônica, one was called Mônica no Castelo do Dragão (Monica at the Dragon’s Castle) released in 1991. The original game was called “Wonder Boy in Monster Land”; they just removed Wonder Boy from the cartridge, inserted Monica and Monica related characters, and commercialized that. That’s an official modification, but of course there were pirated ones as well. And there were also leaked, pre-released versions of games. I remember very clearly “World of Illusion,” a Mickey Mouse game. The version that we could rent in shops was a developer version (a pre-release), and it was actually much more interesting than the later commercialized one. The source of most of the pirated versions of console games was Paraguay, and during the NES era, most of the rental market of cartridges was pirated. It was very hard to find an official game, even from the USA, Europe, or Japan. Those eventually got into the market, but in small quantities.


thepiratebook.net - 2015

Music from Cellphones

by Christopher Kirkley (West Africa)

explorer, music archivist, artist, curator & DJ

Images by Christopher Kirkley





It all started when I was traveling and working in West Africa. My project was to collect and document local music with my field recorder. One day while riding on a bus I noticed that I was listening to three different songs playing on three different phones, and this went on for the entire ten-hour bus ride. I made some field recordings of it, and I think it was my first documentation of this type of practice. It got me thinking that I could start recording music from people’s cellphones. So I started talking to people about their phones. After that, I remember another moment that stood out. I met some people showing me their new phones with all these different recordings that they had made on them, and it was sort of wild when I realized I had access to so much documentation. One guy was a Touareg , and he had his own cellphone that could do basically all that my field recorder does. This gave me the idea that maybe I could start collecting and documenting data from cell phones.





All these exchanges lie between what we usually call piracy, meaning recordings of songs that are copyrighted, that have been recorded in actual studio, etc., and on the other side, songs that are just handmade recordings of spontaneous concerts… You encounter basically three tiers: the first one is copyrighted music, like Western or European music or even popular West African music, like Nigerian or Malian pop music, that was made in a studio and released on a CD. You can find the actual studio albums of some big African stars like Nahawa Doumbia. The second tier is home studio productions. Artists that don’t have access to big studios record at home, in DIY studios, with cheap computers. Often these artists don’t have any intention of ever selling the music. Sometimes, it’s made just for the sake of making music. The third tier would be actual cellphone recordings. For example, when a musician/Touareg is playing his guitar, several people hold their phone over him and start recording. They’re little souvenirs that people make for themselves, but they also form a part of this collection. Sometimes they might be a recording by the artist who sits down and wants to try out a new song, but the majority are social recordings. Music was the first thing people started sharing on their phones, but it’s also videos, jpegs, pngs, image files, etc.





Cellphone data sharing is an element of social life in Western Africa. I think that there’s a relatively slower pace of life here: one of the biggest places where I saw a lot of exchanges happening was while sitting around drinking tea. Drinking tea is a huge part of social life in West Africa, and it takes a while. At some point, when people are sitting silently and just passing time together, they start playing around with their phones and playing a song or passing the phone around and sharing pictures. They’d say, “Hey, let me see your phone,” and then they would flick through the photos or look through songs. Everyone is just showing off their collections of whatever. This is not really done in the Occident, where it mainly happens through social media.





In Africa it’s okay to play music in the public space. You can walk down the street while playing a song on your phone. People don’t get told to turn off their phones; it’s a loud and noisy environment. And when someone is walking by playing a song, you can also stop that person and ask for that song. So, in this environment of constant music being played, you’re also being advertised music all the time. You hear it and you can just take it, whenever you want, just by asking someone. I’ve done it plenty of times with total strangers. The sharing is primarily done through Bluetooth, where you pair the devices and you send media from one phone to another.





The individual files are shared from person to person with Bluetooth. The other form of transfer is made with MP3 downloaders (people, not software), cellphone vendors who also sell bulk MP3s. So if you get a new cellphone or a new memory card and you want to load it up with music, you wouldn’t go to your friends and transfer file by file. It would take a lot of time. Instead, you just go to someone who can fill up entire gigabytes from their computer. There’s no real MP3 market. People just understand that wherever there’s a cellphone being sold, there are MP3s. All these places are interlinked. It revolved around cellphones vendors having computers and being able to unlock phones. They also started to collect music, so every time somebody would bring a phone in, they’d copy all the data off the memory card before they had to reformat it. So they started this massive collection, and then they understood that “well, I can also sell these songs.” You can just go into a shop, ask for hip-hop or whatever and buy it; they sell them as bulk of MP3s. A lot of cellphone vendors started hooking up speakers to their computers and just playing music constantly, so everyone knows that that’s where you go to buy music.






Sahel Sounds

The soundcloud of Sahel Sounds



Modern Music from Mali
@ Afropop Worldwide

Africa High-Tech
@ Willamette Week

Mali Music Culture Defined By The Cellphone
@ Here & Now

Christopher Kirkley, un chasseur de mp3 au Sahara
@ Atelier des Médias

Sahel Sounds and Guerrilla Ethnomusicology
@ Ethnomusicology Review

Desert discs: how mobile phones are at the root of Saharan music
@ The Guardian



Interview de Christopher Kirkley – Sahel Digital
l’Oeil de links

Rain the Colour Blue With a Little Red In It
Movie trailer

thepiratebook.net - 2015

Region 4, Pirate Media Reproduction in Mexico City

by Jota Izquierdo | artist & researcher

Images by Livia Radwanski/EPS & Mark Powell/EPS





Mexico is a big country, close to the US and Central America, with limited access to the Internet and a large informal economy. For the upper classes a connection to the Internet, to fashion, to what we call “the first world” is easy. But for most of the population, piracy is a necessity; it means access to culture, development, and education, but most of all it’s about the economy, a way of living, culture, and a way of consuming modernity. Anthropologist Ravi Sundaram speaks of a “pirate modernity,” a way for popular classes to “enter modernity.” In Mexico you can find pirated goods everywhere, even in the completely formal, official Sunday food markets. It’s a widely accepted way of living. Some big companies, such as Sony and CBS, put pressure on the government to enforce copyright laws, but the informal economy is so big here in Mexico that if you go against piracy, you go against the people and against the economy. It’s about families making a living over here. Local piracy is the domain of small, family businesses. Some of these families make large profits, but they are a minority. Mafias and narcos have never been involved in it, except the last few years. And they are considered the real problem in Mexico, not copyright infringement. We are in a post-colonial situation, so we have to copy. It is very important to understand piracy from the South: it’s not peer-to-peer; it’s not sharing; it’s the piracy of necessity.





One of the most interesting elements of media piracy in Mexico are Sonideros. They are very popular sound systems, sort of animators or DJs playing on the street every weekend. It’s a long tradition, very typical to Mexico, where live music and its social function is very important to people. In the poor neighborhoods there are a lot of houses with patios inside, where neighbors meet and party together. This is the typical architecture of Mexico City. People meet there for any reason, such as birthdays, fiestas, weddings or wedding anniversaries, and when they couldn’t afford an orchestra, which was very expensive, they just played music with a turntable and speakers. This is how it began in the 50s and 60s. But people loved it so much that some animators turned this into a real business and started to play regularly at the weekends at parties. In fact, there’s a rude competition between them – you always need to differentiate yourself from the others. Some of them find music on their own, but others have contacts or buy music in Tepito and other markets. With the development of new technologies, people started to record the Sonideros’ performances and then sell them again in Tepito. So the Sonideros realized they could sell their own live CDs. That’s why after an hour of live show, you can buy the “First hour live CD” and after two hours the “Second hour live CD,” etc., all in real-time. Sonideros not only play music, but also make live dedication messages like “Hey, hello to my mother and my brother living in Texas” that are also recorded on the CD. This community spirit and “close to the crowd” mentality is very important for them. It’s not only music. Sometimes you go there and you can’t even listen to the music because they are sending greetings all the time!





Some people buy those CDs to sell them again on the street – music is always in movement. Others, like “Discos Benjy” Studio, for example, come to three or four Sonideros’ performances every weekend, record them live with a camera, edit them, and a few days later a new video is out on the street markets. Then you can see your friends and yourself on the video with the dedication messages – it’s a souvenir and a testimony that you were there! Music is always in movement and reproduction is increasing. Some informal vendors who go to Tepito buy these CDs/videos and re-sell them again in the subway and buses out of Tepito, as their own production, by changing the cover, adding an intromix, etc. There is even some competition between the “Orignal/Copies” and the “Copies/Copies” vendors because they all have their own pride about it. You can buy a copy, but if you change something, you will be creating and selling a “new original.” This amazing chain of reproduction and distribution is quite specific to Mexico. For me this is one of the most interesting things happening here in the field of media piracy. The music is always in reproduction through all these different levels of copy. It’s also culturally anchored in the North American culture: emigrants from Mexico who are living in the USA or Canada can still check the Sonideros’ performances on web radio or live video streams and feel like a part of the community again. You may not have legal papers, you may be an illegal immigrant, but you can still see a live performance from your own village with your own people.


thepiratebook.net - 2015


Shanzhai Culture (China)

by Clément Renaud | artist & researcher





For decades corporate economists have provided half-baked proofs to support the claim that infringements of intellectual property rights lead to large losses for the global economy. The OECD estimates that 2.5 million jobs will be lost worldwide in 2015 due to non-compliance with copyright laws. Despite all the algorithmic creativity and obscure data deployed to compute this number, “the model struggles with (…) a single market outside of Europe: China.” Indeed. China is one giant proof that the absence of copyright enforcement can actually empower millions of people to learn, and that it can eventually become beneficial for both the local and global economy.
(Photo below: Reuters/Jon Woo)





The Made in China phenomenon has provided cheap labor and an unbelievable growth opportunity to global corporations during the last decades. Its existence has given birth to a parallel and flourishing local counterfeiting industry, often known as Shanzhai manufacturing. Riding towards the Shenzhen outskirts, the flatness of the Pearl River Delta coast gradually transforms into hills and mountains. The gray walls of factory towns spurt out of this green landscape: “small-sized speculative standard factories literally rise from the farmlands as bricks and tin sheds replace paddy fields.” Here stands the legendary home of the Chinese pirates: the Shanzhai. In Chinese popular culture, a Shanzhai (shan: mountain, zhai: stronghold) refers to a remote village in the mountains where bandits had once recreated their own form of society, far from the rules of the emperor. Producing fake Samsung phones or the stepper motor of your latest 3D printer, Shanzhai factories are small production units. They were originally run by families that came to the Pearl River Delta for a ride in the global business world. Running selfie-stick assembly lines like they were carrot fields, these manufacturers grow technological products with an Internet connection as the only R&D capacity. They read product reviews, study pictures, buy samples, and tear them apart to see if they can recreate some sort of equivalents for less cost. Cheaper rubbers, recycled parts, older chips: they just need to assemble something similar. No slide decks by a 20-something lumbersexual “growth hacker”: they just build products for a cheap price. Corporations hate them. Millions of people use their products to reach the shores of the Internet everyday. After 20 years of frenzy, the Made in China phenomenon is not the engine for economic growth it once was. Workers are demanding a minimum wage, welfare and all – time to relocate south. China will now begin its transformation into a gigantic robotized infrastructure of production. Japan has shown the way, but the eco-compliant optimization-friendly integrated “smart” megacity will be Chinese. Its headquarters are already installed in the outgrown fishing village of Shenzhen. Located in the gigantic industrial hub of the Pearl River Delta, Shenzhen sits just next to Hong-Kong’s world-class business facilities. Tablets, drones, biotech, or open-source hardware, most components of the world are bought on weight from Shenzhen’s local market. Thriving with connected products and launches on Kickstarter, the whole place is currently busy redefining the future of technology. The “maker movement” has found a new home, and teams from all over the world are coming to get their piece of the new industrial cake. There is still one question though: how have communist farmers transformed into cyber-geeks that want to run global industry? How did they learn to follow tech trends, run factories, create products, and design next-gen service-based electronics?





In 1980, less than 3% of Shenzhen workers had attended middle school. History books will tell us that good managers from NASDAQ companies came to China to train those people and that teachers from the Communist Party helped turn them into skilled workers. Reality shows something else: when you have no resources, no proper education system, and no mentors at your disposal, then you just learn from your surroundings. You copy, you paste, you reproduce, you modify, you struggle – and you eventually improve. In Shenzhen’s eastern district of Longgang, a village called Dafen specialized in selling replicas of famous paintings. Andy Warhole, Vincent van Gagh, Jackson Pollack, the signatures of Dafen’s anonymous painters delighted tourists for a decade. Today, the counterfeiters are long gone and Dafen has become a market for Chinese artists to sell their paintings. A quasi-industrial process of copying masters has lead to the advent of a local scene, raising questions about how to make space for original creation. Benjamin thought that mass production will never anchor in time and space, and will just prove to be an illusion of art. Maybe he was right. Maybe copies are just a temporary state for learning. As Dubuffet puts it: “The essential gesture of a painter is to coat.” And, well, you should always learn from the best.





The quality of fake products in a market like China’s varies tremendously. You can buy a (fake) pair of Ray-Bans for 20 cents or 60 dollars. The 20 cent one will last a day and break, while the expensive version will be exactly like the real one, including the (fake) guarantee card. The classification for counterfeit goods is pretty casual for Chinese people: A-goods (A货) are the best and are almost indistinguishable from the real ones. B-goods are lower quality (B货), and it goes down until you reach Z, which are just big jokes disguised as actual products. Many online retailers will advertise their AAA-goods which are super-perfect, even better than the original – like a pair of Nike shoes with an extra Adidas logo on them. There is of course craftsmanship in counterfeiting: it is no easy task to retro-engineer the minds of 10 Stanford graduates by opening the latest phone model. Still, the more straightforward way are the “day-night” factories: you make shoes for Nike during the day, then you make Nike shoes for you during the night.





In the 90s, the PC market was still in its infancy. Intel’s founder Gordon E. Moore and its famous law on computation opened the door for the exponential growth of computing power. The new gold rush was turning sand into silicon so fast that computers barely had time to hit the shelves before becoming outdated. Manufacturers just couldn’t follow. In 1995, a shipment of PCs lost 1.5% of its value per week. The trip from China to the US took several weeks and this was becoming intolerable for Intel, who couldn’t sell their new Pentium CPU as fast as they wanted to. They decided to introduce the ATX platform by providing all technical drawings and specs, so everyone could start making motherboards for the latest models. In a matter of months, tons of very small companies in Taiwan started to produce “white-box” computers, machines without brands or even product numbers. They were assembled and shipped from Taiwan, and the processor was added directly in the shop upon arrival. After less than 10 years, those “no-brand” computers had become the leaders in the global market with more than 30% of overall PCs. Inspired by the story, the giant Taiwanese chipmaker UMC decided to scale this “white-box” approach into a new and fast-growing market: the mobile phone. It turned one of its R&D projects into a spin-off called Mediatek (MTK), which started to sell kits containing blueprints for both hardware and software. They also provided training and support to thousands of very small factories to create cellphones based on their kits. When everyone in the West was still buying a Nokia, MTK was turning Chinese assembly lines into design houses. Just grab an MTK kit, find a plastic case, add a few buttons, flash an OS, and your product is ready. You want a Samsung phone in the shape of Michael Jordan? No problem, just wait a minute. With 50 ringtones and LEDs on the top? OK, I will ask my brother. In 2010, more than 100 million phones containing MTK chips were sold, mostly in Southeast Asia, Africa, and India. Meanwhile, MTK has been repeatedly accused of and sued for patent infringements of any possible technologies. This “unfair” call against competitors has created one of the fastest-growing industrial sectors: the mobile Internet. The Power Bank Phone that has suddenly appeared in the streets of Accra in Ghana is a good example of this story. While westerners like to send suit-wearing executives to negotiate deals, the Chinese usually do business as individuals or families. Thousands of Chinese have recently moved to Africa to start all kinds of businesses there. One of them seems to have experienced the frequent power cuts in West Africa, and found that really annoying. To solve this problem, he imagined a phone that could provide electricity. As people in Ghana apparently like to have different numbers, it should also contain three SIM cards. Our guy called his cousin in Guangdong and asked him if his factory could produce such a phone. A few days later, the first batch was in a container and after a week you could find it in Accra’s markets. There is even no need to add fake Samsung or Ericsson branding on the box; just print the specs and a picture of the phone and that’s it.






The Shanzhai industry is an exemplary case of market-driven modern technological innovation: fast, consumer-centric, incremental product development. Design theory could sure learn a thing or two from those Chinese guys. Here, a good design derives from the availability of starter kits to build on, the capacity to copy and integrate existing features, and the facility to access production means in an almost trivial manner. Still, before discussing the “Shanzhai model” of innovation in salons, let’s not forget some other key elements for success: a cheap labor force and a strong political framework. The Chinese Communist Party and its enforcement of broken work regulations should take credit in today’s design and innovation frenzy. Another interesting feature of Shanzhai industry is that because they were the pirates secretly working in remote factories, they built a vast system for cooperation and competition. They shared plans, news, retro-engineering results and blueprints on instant messaging groups. Despite not having a promotional label like “open-source” and the like, they were actually practitioners of distributed manufacturing. In many regards, Shenzhen echoes the dream of a “fab city” where design houses and small factories collaborate for the public and private good. The continuation of Shanzhai is open-source manufacturing, and local players like Seeed Studio or Cubietech have understood it completely. This new generation of Chinese makers is gathering a large community of tech followers, with all the best practices from documentation, community care and promotion. You can freely check the quality of their designs and have nice and enjoyable tours in their factories in Shenzhen. Far from the grim world of pirates, they publish methodologies and plans online, support their users, and will even make your crowd funding campaign a success if you ask them. They know that products aren’t born in the mind of a designer, but in the hands of a factory worker.



For decades, foreign companies went to China and left with what they paid for: very cheap stuff that barely works. Indeed, you cannot expect an illiterate farmer to produce a Swiss watch on day one. After years of underground experience at the margins of the global production system, Shanzhai manu-facturers have come up with a new model of production that may influence generations of designers to come. Copying, counterfeiting, and reusing existing inventions has contributed not to the destruction of pre-existing industry, but to its optimization. Mostly, it has covered the costs of training thousands of Chinese manufacturers while creating a highly profitable local economy. Instead of contesting an existing model, the transformation of Shanzhai manufacturing into an open-source model for mass production may even reinforce the current craze for efficiency in technological development. If free access to copyrighted resources proves to be harmful in the long run, it won’t be because of losses due to counterfeiting but from the application of so much knowledge, resources, and skills to the wrong purposes.


thepiratebook.net - 2015


Brazil, 80s & 90s

by Pedro Mizukami, researcher,

co-coordinator of the Brazilian components of

the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” project





Both video clubs/stores and video game consoles were affected by Brazilian industrial policy during the 1980s and the import substitution policies that were adopted at the time. Several items were included in the package, but mostly it was about closing the Brazilian market and making it very hard for imports to reach the Brazilian territory in order to stimulate local industries. This was the main trend in Brazilian industrial policy during that time. As a result, contraband, piracy, and unlicensed hardware, in the case of video game consoles, were commonplace.





Video became a big thing in Brazil during the 80s. I remember how hard it was to purchase a VCR video player in Brazil when I was growing up. It was very expensive. So it took a lot of time for families to save enough money to purchase a videocassette player in Brazil, and, for the most part, only families that were well off could afford it.





The first Brazilian videocassette player was produced in 1982, so this year can be used in a timeline as the beginning of Brazilian video, though VCRs were imported into Brazil before that. Since prices for VCRs produced in Brazil were very high, most families would purchase cheaper imported machines, mostly from Paraguay. The price difference was so great that people would go to Paraguay, buy videocassette players, and resell them into the Brazilian market. The market started to be populated by these machines, but there was actually no home video market to supply VHS tapes containing movies. It meant that even if you had access to a videocassette player, there was still the issue of how to find the content to play in it. So people began to organize themselves into video clubs. Each video club would of course operate by different rules, but typically you would pay a monthly fee for being a member, and sometimes you would be required to contribute a few new titles for the archives. Mostly these were VHS tapes that were purchased abroad, even though importing them was actually illegal. The import substitution policies I mentioned before required them to be produced in Brazil. A member of a video club would have access to the entire archive of the video club, so these became hubs for the import and distribution of movies during the early years of the Brazilian video market. As you can imagine, this involved piracy because it was necessary to acquire, duplicate, and subtitle the tape, so these clubs can be thought of as a sort of early fan subcommunities.





The video clubs progressively transitioned into the video rental market. Rental stores began to appear where you could actually rent movies, so you would not have to contribute new movies and so on. You could just go there and pay a fee for each of the movies that you rented. According to an estimate from 1987 (this is an industry estimate, so we can question its accuracy), about 80% of the archives in Brazilian video stores around 1987 were pirated. There was actually no official market that could supply the home video market with the number of titles that it needed.





Getting a video tape legally distributed in Brazil involved a series of bureaucratic steps. Let’s suppose that you were a firm licensed to distribute a movie from Warner Bros. in Brazil. You would have to get authorization from Concine (Concine was the government body that supervised the entire film industry in Brazil), you would have to register with them, you would have to prove that you have a license to distribute the video and you would have to acquire a stamp, a small sticker that would be put on the videotape. The stamp was usually what people used to distinguish between pirated video and legitimate, official video. It was printed by the government and attached to the tapes. The legal tapes would also, of course, have professionally produced covers and packaging, which was certainly not the case with pirated videotapes.



If you look at the Brazilian pirate market now, there are varying degrees of how professionally produced the covers are, but at that time a sticker was typed on a typewriter with the title of the movie, maybe with a brief synopsis, and the cover would probably include the name of the video club or the video rental store. In terms of aesthetics, it wasn’t very well produced. These were the main factors that were used to distinguish between a pirated videotape and an original, licensed one. There was no big conversation around copyright then; it was mainly a question of whether the government authorized distribution of the video on Brazilian territory or whether there was a sticker on the tape. If there was no sticker, it meant that this was either a pirated tape or an “alternative” tape. “Alternative” was a euphemism that was used in order to market these tapes; there wasn’t really a stigma attached to the word “piracy,” but it did, of course, link people to the idea of illegality.





In 1987 distributors, representatives of big studios, and film producers started to organize themselves in Brazil. They began to pressure the government and managed to crack down on the pirate video market. From 1987 to 1989 there were several crackdowns on numerous video stores and video clubs. These were very effective. I remember when growing up that one week you would have access to the entire range of film production in the world, and after the crackdown you would be restricted to legally distributed tapes, which of course, only represented the major blockbusters. And even so, the market was under-served, both due to the bureaucratic hindrances involved with getting the sticker from the government, and the approach of the distributers themselves, who preferred to serve the market with the minimum common denominator in terms of content. So you can imagine what it was like for a 10-year-old boy in the countryside near São Paulo, going to the video store in order to rent a movie, and going from a whole universe of productions to a very small number of major American blockbusters or major European productions. From one day to the next, it was as if 80% of the catalogue was down, and with it a lot of content that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere, not in theatres, and not on TV. It was a major drought in terms of access to content in Brazil. The crackdown on Brazilian video stores could be likened to the burning the Library of Alexandria or a situation where 80% of the content on peer-to-peer file sharing websites disappeared after a successful enforcement attack from the major motion picture organizations. It took from 1990 to the late 90s for the market to actually meet the demand for less mainstream titles.


thepiratebook.net - 2015

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This work offers a broad view on media piracy as well as a variety of comparative perspectives on recent issues and historical facts regarding piracy. It contains a compilation of texts on grass­roots situations whose stories describe strategies developed to share, distribute and experience cultural content outside of the confines of local economies, politics or laws. These stories recount the experiences of individuals from India, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Mali and China. The book is structured in four parts and begins with a collection of stories on piracy dating back to the invention of the printing press and expanding to broader issues (historical and modern anti­piracy technologies, geographically­ specific issues, as well as the rules of the Warez scene, its charters, structure and visual culture…).


thepiratebook.net - 2015