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YIFY: The rise and fall of the world's most prolific movie pirate

Matt Brian , @m4tt
11.04.15
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It's never been hard to pirate movies, but for a long time, one collective has made it easier to watch the latest blockbusters than any other: YIFY. By focusing on speed, better quality rips and small file sizes, the group quickly grew to become the number one source for illegal movies, catering for the needs of millions of content pirates around the world. However, the YIFY name may soon fade into obscurity after it was revealed that its leader had been traced and named in a New Zealand lawsuit following a joint operation between the MPAA and its "international affiliates." While many believe that its releases won't be missed, YIFY's shutdown will leave a big hole in the piracy market and have a knock-on effect on streaming services like Popcorn Time -- at least until another group steps up.

The rise of YIFY

Before YIFY, there was aXXo. aXXo was the alias of an individual who specialized in leaking DVD-quality rips of new movies to torrent sites that were nearly always encoded in files under 700MB. There were many imitators, but none could match the speed or breadth of aXXo leaks. When the prolific pirate signed off in 2009, it took YIFY around a year to begin uploading torrents to sites like PublicHD, KickassTorrents, 1337x, The Pirate Bay, and ExtraTorrent. According to records on KickassTorrent, the first YIFY upload was a DVD rip of Toy Story 1 & 2 in 2010.

It took around a year of third-party uploads for YIFY to gain enough momentum to launch its own website, which you may know as YTS. In an interview with TorrentFreak, its creator, who was today revealed to have run the website from a house in Auckland, New Zealand, revealed that the group's mission was to "bring Hollywood films to the masses at smaller file-size." The group used the x264 video standard to encode movies at around the tenth of the size of a ripped Blu-ray disc. YIFY justifies its operation by saying it lets "users from all parts of the world, who have bandwidth or hard drive limitations, download and enjoy this content."

YIFY Google Trends

Google Trends data shows the rise in YIFY searches over the past four years.

Some members of the torrenting community are quick to dismiss the quality of YIFY releases. The group's Full HD (1080p) releases have been criticized for lacking visual detail and sound clarity, with 5.1 audio support notably absent. It's clear, however, that YIFY's releases are significantly better than the "CAM rips" that are uploaded by groups who send people into theaters to film movies. YIFY makes some trade-offs to get its file sizes down, and community diehards may not have been impressed, but its quality was more than enough for the masses.

The knock-on effects

If you head to any popular movie torrent site right now, you'll notice that the majority of high-definition releases are YIFY uploads. The Pirate Bay, for example, lists 72 YIFY movies in its Top 100 HD movie section. In five years, over 4,500 infringing titles have been shared on such sites, and before the group was shut down, new movies would appear every few hours.

With YIFY gone, torrent sites face becoming stagnant as the pace of new releases drops. What also hasn't been considered is the effect the group's demise will have on streaming services like Popcorn Time and Kodi movie streaming plugins. While the MPAA and Hollywood studios have successfully shut down various forks of the Bittorrent-based platform, users have flocked to its many copycats. But there may soon be a dearth of new movies to stream.

Popcorn Time

That's exactly what the MPAA wants, of course, but in the huge game of whack-a-mole that is internet piracy, downloaders will hope there's another aXXo or YIFY waiting in the wings. In contrast to Scene or P2P groups, which operate in cliques and aspire to be the first to leak a Hollywood blockbuster, YIFY operated on an access-for-all basis. That's not to say that other torrent release groups can't capitalize on the void left by the New Zealand-based movement. There are plenty of private torrent trackers where content is siloed, but it appears that most public teams do not have (right now) the same access to movies that YIFY enjoyed.

According to the New Zealand Herald, YIFY's unnamed owner was served with a multi-million dollar lawsuit on October 12th, which was subsequently settled out of court. With 3.4 million unique visitors and 43 million views on the YTS website in August alone, YIFY has become the biggest piracy bust in New Zealand's history. If TorrentFreak's sources are to believed, the accused may be "working on an agreement to minimize their harm, possibly in exchange for information." That could mean we see more MPAA action against movie pirates in the very near future.

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