E-pirates draft a statute on best practices

You’d never guess it, but some hackers care about quality and consensus building
Luke Simcoe
Isaac Brekken/AP Photo

Luke Simcoe is a guest blogger. He contributes the occasional post on web culture, the various kooks and cranks who inhabit the Internet, as well as copyright matters.

Try to picture an Internet pirate in your head.

Maybe it’s some guy in his parent’s basement, swathed in blue light and surrounded by cables linking his PC to his television. Maybe it’s Kim Dotcom, dividing his time between yachting in the Mediterranean and playing Modern Warfare 3. Heck, maybe it’s even Angelina Jolie from Hackers. Whatever your picture entails, chances are your personal pirate doesn’t spend his time engaged in a lot of consensus building and debates about best practices.

And yet, it would seem that’s exactly what many of them do.

Earlier this year, various piracy groups sat down in the digital equivalent of Tortuga to discuss the finer points of ripping and circulating standard definition TV shows. The result was a rather official document entitled “The SD x264 TV Releasing Standards 2012.” The signatories include some of the most well-known names in online piracy; just search for ‘LOL’ or ‘DiVERGE’ on any torrent site, and you’ll come across thousands of files credited to these groups.

The document itself is highly technical, covering everything from how to name files to acceptable methods for encoding audio and subtitles. It doesn’t make for a thrilling read, but its very existence demonstrates that the world of Internet piracy is far more organized–and more democratic–than one would expect. The authors even write that “the SD x264 TV section was formed to separate releases from the ruleless world of TV-XviD.” The Wild West this ain’t.

While the fact that these release groups are deliberating at all is remarkable, it’s what they’re deliberating that’s most important. The biggest change to emerge out of the gathering of e-pirates was the adoption of the x264 video codec over the now-venerable XvID:

“x264 has become the most advanced video codec over the past few years. Compared to XviD, it is able to provide higher quality and compression at greater SD resolutions. There are many standalone players/streamers such as TviX, Popcorn Hour, WDTV HD Media Player, Boxee, Xtreamer, PS3, XBOX 360, iPad, & HDTVs that can playback H264 and AAC encapsulated in MP4.”

For those unfamiliar with the jargon, video codecs are computer programs that encode digital data. Codecs can, for example, translate digital TV signals into something that can be read by a personal computer. What the above quote means is that the pirates are concerned about quality control. They make clear that the decision to adopt the x264 codec was brought about by a desire to provide high quality, easily accessible content that can be viewed on the widest possible array of devices.

And we wonder why piracy is so rampant…