While visiting The Pirate Bay with a BitTorrent client running in the taskbar was standard practice for many South Africans, the expansion of cheap streaming services like Netflix and the globalisation of content has seen this behaviour decrease in recent years.
“Piracy” websites like The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents have also come under sustained attack from governments and copyright holders, making the operation of these public-facing entities a big risk – with jail time and fines dished out to infringers.
There are still thriving content-sharing communities online, however, which distribute both copyrighted and non-copyrighted photos, videos, GIFs, and files through private groups and chat platforms.
Two popular platforms for this are Discord and Mega.
Servers and file sharing
Discord is a popular platform which is free to use, and features strongly in online gaming communities.
It provides VoIP, video, and text chat channels, and runs on all the big systems – Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. It can also be used in a web browser.
Its website states that 14 million daily players use Discord and 315 million messages are sent each day.
Content sharing is popular on Discord, too, and users create “servers” which serve the needs of users who join them.
Whether it’s sports content, jokes and memes, software, celebrity culture updates, games, or adult material you are looking for, there is a high chance there is a user-run Discord server that hosts what you need.
Certain servers host many sub-categories in a topic which provide access to specific elements, while other servers focus on an individual, system, or theme. Servers can also act as link directories, and only exist to provide links to other servers.
What makes the Discord servers less of a takedown target compared to piracy websites is that they are not public-facing – you must be invited to join or access an invitation link – and there are orders of magnitude more. This makes them difficult to police.
Reddit is one of the popular forums where those who are new to Discord can access server links and explore what is on offer.
As stated above, though, content you encounter may be pirated – and can get you in trouble with Discord.
Discord states that it will delete users and servers if they share content that violates copyright. The platform will also delete accounts if users conduct other forbidden activity, such as spamming, inciting violence, promoting cruelty to people or animals, and linking to viruses.
What makes Discord servers fascinating, once you accept the risks of interacting with user-run groups, is that getting access to your first server opens up a spider web of connections.
Many servers host an “Other Discords” section, in which users post invite links to similar or other interesting servers.
These new servers in turn host their own Other Discords sections, and you are able to exponentially expand your exposure to what is available through the platform.
While links to Imgur, Vimeo, and other media-hosting sites litter Discord servers, Mega.nz has a distinct presence.
Mega was launched in 2013 and is a privacy-focused, end-to-end encrypted hosting platform that gives users 50GB of cloud space for free. Users can then upgrade to more storage for a fee.
For example, 1TB of storage is €9.99 per month.
The service is run by Mega Limited – the company founded by Kim Dotcom after he was ordered to shut down Megaupload. Dotcom currently faces racketeering and copyright infringement charges in the US.
Mega is a popular platform for hosting pirated content that is shared via Discord, and its privacy-first approach means users may feel safer hosting the content there as opposed to Google Drive or other cloud services.
Once you access a Mega link via a shared URL, you are able to view and download the files shared in the drive.
Many Mega links do not contain descriptions, however, and users rely on their placements in a particular Discord server or subsection of a server to know what they can expect when they open the drive.
For someone who has never explored Discord servers and the content they host, the experience is truly eye-opening.
The diverse range and volume of files, photos, videos, and more is staggering. What is even more impressive is that they are often run by small groups of people.
As stated before, the user-controlled nature of the servers means you are likely to encounter “illegal” content – so it may be best to try this at home as opposed to on your work network.