The Pirates of Netflix

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years (which is not OK — seek help if you have!), you’ve probably become, at the very least, acquainted with the Los Gatos, California based movie rental company, Netflix.

Since its founding in 1997, Netflix quickly grew into the successful, publicly traded company it is today by uniquely cornering the movie rental market. Unlike competitors, Netflix cut costs by doing away with fixed customer rental locations and opted for central distribution facilities from which they would mail discs to customers. In this system, they provide customers with unlimited movie rentals from a huge movie library, with selections in DVD or BluRay form, at one low, monthly, flat rate. And, best of all, there are no late fees!

This revolutionary system single handedly brought movie rental giants, such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, to their knees leaving them scrambling to find ways to compete with Netflix’s winning system. However, this seems to have been in vain, as Netflix reports annual revenues above $1.3 Billion!

What does this have to do with computers, you ask?

Well, seemingly unbeknownst to Netflix, there has been a quiet movement brewing that combines both the affordability of the Netflix system and the ingenuity of some software developers, namely those who developed a program called Handbrake.

Now, I think this is the part where we at The Real Mac Geniuses should say, before we continue, that we share this information in a non criminal activity encouraging or endorsing way. Look at it like this: you know how movies don’t let you fast forward through all that FBI stuff that no one ever reads? Pause a movie one of these days and note that it excplicitly says,

“The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted word is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.”

Yeah! That! BOO!

It turns out that, when the FBI wrote that, they had certain innovative people in mind like those who began using the method I’m about to describe!

Here’s the deal:

On average, Netflix subscribers receive, watch and return their movies in approx. 1 to 3 weeks. Moreover, normal subscribers, in order to view one of those movies again, must wait for Netflix to redeliver the movie (per the person’s movie cue). However, some computer savvy subscribers employ Handbrake to record the movie when they receive it, thus allowing them to watch it whenever they want. After, they return it immediately (or ASAP), maximizing consumption.

Here’s how it works. Upon opening Handbrake, the program automatically detects the location of the movie on the loaded DVD. However, instead of trying to copy the movie file from the disc (which I think is nearly impossible), Handbrake plays the movie and records the output. Granted, this takes some time, but, after a half hour or so, the subscriber has a perfect replication of the movie saved to his hard drive! It’s that simple!

What are the risks? Well, meeting a overly friendly inmate named “Bubba” in federal prison who frequently compliments your “pretty mouth” is one! However, I wish I could say there were more, but, for the most part, these shady subscribers (pirates, sans eye-patch?) do not sell, publicly display or distribute their copies and do not openly attract attention. Granted, there probably are people out there who load them onto peer sharing or bit torrent sites, but, if that were the case, my last copy of Throbin’ Hood (Prince of Beaves) would have downloaded much faster than it did… Just kidding! I don’t use bit torrent sites…

This marriage of Netflix and Handbrake (and the like) ultimately hurts the movie providers (Apple included) who eventually experience declining revenues. That is, as customers become more dependent upon their own illegally assembled libraries, they are less likely to draw from these corporate movie suppliers. If Netflix doesn’t raise subscription prices or somehow render copying applications defunct, widespread pirating could ultimately lead to reduced movie title diversity or even the shut down of these providers. Is the latter very likely? Hard to say, but this is the business of pirating movies.

Moral of the story? There isn’t one, as best I can tell, and I wrote the article!


What do you think? Leave a comment below!

About Baron Cannon

Baron Cannon hails from San Jose, California and is a Senior at Boston College (Class of 2011). With specializations in Economics, English and Media Broadcasting (Radio), he will graduate with Honors as a Philosophy Major and History Minor. He is a regular contributor for and, a news and politics publication, as well as a free lance journalist for Boston College's newspaper, The Heights. To contact him, email to [email protected]

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