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9 Rare Works Of Art Internet Pirates Are Obsessed With

If it exists, it can be ripped.

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These days nearly anything with a copyright gets pirated within minutes of its release—and, with leaking a constant problem, sometimes even earlier than that. Archival music and movie torrent sites collect these rips, building massive libraries that contain the large majority of our collective cultural output. If you want a piece of media from the last 50 years, and you know where to look, you can find almost anything.

Almost.

Certain works are difficult to source, and in the digital underground, they can achieve almost legendary status. Lost movies; shelved albums; out-of-print books — the harder they are to find, the more the pirates want them. These are the Holy Grails of Internet piracy.

1. The Lost Short Stories of J.D. Salinger

Pirated? PartlyNestled inside Box 14, Folder 26 of the special collections archive at Princeton University's Firestone Library you'll find one of the most desirable collections of unpublished literature in the world: six original manuscripts by J.D. Salinger, written several years before the first publication of Catcher in the Rye. Three of these stories later appeared elsewhere; another, "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls," surprised everyone by surfacing online in 2013. But the remaining two—"The Last and Best of the Peter Pans," and "The Magic Foxhole"—have never made it out. The latter, a surreal fictionalization of Salinger's experience storming the beach on D-Day, is said to be one of his favorite pieces of writing.The six manuscripts can't be checked out. They can only be read by qualified University patrons, under supervision by the Princeton librarians. No recording devices or writing implements are permitted in the reading room. And Salinger's will states they can't legally be published until the year 2060. Still, someone's gotten access to this folder before, and leaking a copy of either of the two remaining unpublished stories to the internet would be one of the greatest capers in the history of piracy.
MANDEL NGAN / Getty Images

Pirated? Partly

Nestled inside Box 14, Folder 26 of the special collections archive at Princeton University's Firestone Library you'll find one of the most desirable collections of unpublished literature in the world: six original manuscripts by J.D. Salinger, written several years before the first publication of Catcher in the Rye. Three of these stories later appeared elsewhere; another, "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls," surprised everyone by surfacing online in 2013. But the remaining two—"The Last and Best of the Peter Pans," and "The Magic Foxhole"—have never made it out. The latter, a surreal fictionalization of Salinger's experience storming the beach on D-Day, is said to be one of his favorite pieces of writing.

The six manuscripts can't be checked out. They can only be read by qualified University patrons, under supervision by the Princeton librarians. No recording devices or writing implements are permitted in the reading room. And Salinger's will states they can't legally be published until the year 2060. Still, someone's gotten access to this folder before, and leaking a copy of either of the two remaining unpublished stories to the internet would be one of the greatest capers in the history of piracy.

2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling

Pirated? NoThe Canadian music collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a cult favorite, best known for their 12-minute post-rock crescendos. But way back in 1994, they released this, their first recording, in a limited edition of just 33 audio cassette tapes. The legend of this obscure piece of media grows by the year: no one's ever been able to source a copy, and no one really knows what it sounds like. Numerous hoax copies have surfaced; all have been debunked. But perhaps somewhere, at some Montreal flea market, or in some aging music fanatic's basement collection, arguably the internet's single-most desired piece of unpirated music is still waiting to be found.
YouTube

Pirated? No

The Canadian music collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a cult favorite, best known for their 12-minute post-rock crescendos. But way back in 1994, they released this, their first recording, in a limited edition of just 33 audio cassette tapes. The legend of this obscure piece of media grows by the year: no one's ever been able to source a copy, and no one really knows what it sounds like. Numerous hoax copies have surfaced; all have been debunked. But perhaps somewhere, at some Montreal flea market, or in some aging music fanatic's basement collection, arguably the internet's single-most desired piece of unpirated music is still waiting to be found.

3. Matthew Barney's Cremaster (video art installation)

Pirated? PartlyThe pirates make quick work of mainstream cinema. Press screeners, studio work prints, in-theater camcorder shots, streaming web rips and clones of warehouse Blu-Rays all make their way to the underground torrent networks weeks ahead of official release dates. Arthouse flicks can take longer, but with time almost any movie with a distributor, no matter how obscure, gets digitized, compressed, and posted illegally online.Video art is a harder target. Take, for example, Matthew Barney's five-part Cremaster cycle. Named after a muscle in the penis, and loaded with striking, sexually-charged imagery, Cremaster earned Barney comparisons to surrealist masters like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. Praise wasn't universal—many critics were repelled by Barney's lack of subtlety, and his self-congratulatory tone—but the work crossed over into mainstream popularity, and this made it a natural target for the pirates.So how to find a copy? In 2002, Barney released the original Cremaster cycle in a limited edition of 20, selling copies of the complete DVD set for over $100,000. By 2007, Sotheby's was auctioning off a single copy of Cremaster 2 for more than half a million. And, seeking to preserve the value of the work, Barney has promised never to release the series to mass-market DVD. As he told an interviewer in 2006: "It's not right for them to be available to be owned in an unlimited way after they've been sold in a limited way."In the age of digital reproduction, Barney's explanation sounded more like a challenge. Cremaster 2, 3 and 4 all appeared online as early as 2008; in late 2014, a cloned DVD of Cremaster 1 was mysteriously posted to Pass the Popcorn, an invitation-only movie tracker. (In the film, two Goodyear blimps and a synchronized dance troupe re-enact the process of human ovulation.) That leaves Cremaster 5: a climactic opera about a pair of descending testicles, still available only as a low-quality VHS rip. The work is still out there and, digital or otherwise, perhaps someday soon the reproductive cycle will be complete.
Matthew Barney

Pirated? Partly

The pirates make quick work of mainstream cinema. Press screeners, studio work prints, in-theater camcorder shots, streaming web rips and clones of warehouse Blu-Rays all make their way to the underground torrent networks weeks ahead of official release dates. Arthouse flicks can take longer, but with time almost any movie with a distributor, no matter how obscure, gets digitized, compressed, and posted illegally online.

Video art is a harder target. Take, for example, Matthew Barney's five-part Cremaster cycle. Named after a muscle in the penis, and loaded with striking, sexually-charged imagery, Cremaster earned Barney comparisons to surrealist masters like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. Praise wasn't universal—many critics were repelled by Barney's lack of subtlety, and his self-congratulatory tone—but the work crossed over into mainstream popularity, and this made it a natural target for the pirates.

So how to find a copy? In 2002, Barney released the original Cremaster cycle in a limited edition of 20, selling copies of the complete DVD set for over $100,000. By 2007, Sotheby's was auctioning off a single copy of Cremaster 2 for more than half a million. And, seeking to preserve the value of the work, Barney has promised never to release the series to mass-market DVD. As he told an interviewer in 2006: "It's not right for them to be available to be owned in an unlimited way after they've been sold in a limited way."

In the age of digital reproduction, Barney's explanation sounded more like a challenge. Cremaster 2, 3 and 4 all appeared online as early as 2008; in late 2014, a cloned DVD of Cremaster 1 was mysteriously posted to Pass the Popcorn, an invitation-only movie tracker. (In the film, two Goodyear blimps and a synchronized dance troupe re-enact the process of human ovulation.)

That leaves Cremaster 5: a climactic opera about a pair of descending testicles, still available only as a low-quality VHS rip. The work is still out there and, digital or otherwise, perhaps someday soon the reproductive cycle will be complete.

4. Nathan Myrvhold - Modernist Cuisine

Pirated? YesComprising 2,438 stunning, full-color pages across six separate volumes, Modernist Cuisine has been described as "the cookbook to end all cookbooks." Equal parts history, science and survey of contemporary trends, the book's beautiful, bonkers recipes transform raw ingredients like eggs and carrots into unrecognizable forms—pebbles, gels, foams—using non-standard laboratory-grade cooking equipment like centrifuges and liquid nitrogen. First published in 2011, Modernist Cuisine was the brainchild of Nathan Myrvhold, the former CTO of Microsoft and culinary school graduate. Working with a staff of more than 50, it took Myrvhold more than five years to complete the book. But from the moment of its conception Modernist Cuisine was a target for the pirates, and in 2012, on the underground torrent site what.cd, a user named "buffguy" uploaded a complete PDF copy. Included with the post was a note, detailing the 200 hours it had taken to scan, edit and organize all two thousand plus pages. Soon, the pirated version Modernist Cuisine was posted to numerous other torrent sites, including a dedicated cookbook piracy concern called deli.sh.But the rip of Modernist Cuisine wasn't just about food. For years, the pirates had been fighting a guerilla battle against the intellectual property enforcers, and Myrvhold was a tempting target: in addition to his work as a chef, he is also the founder of Intellectual Ventures, a business which buys up underused patent portfolios then shakes down large corporations by threatening infringement lawsuits on their behalf. (Myrvhold claims this unpopular "patent-trolling" spurs innovation; he's even argued that gastronomy would advance more quickly if chefs were permitted to copyright their recipes.) Right or wrong, the boundaries of intellectual property remain bitterly contested, and, with further editions of Modernist Cuisine in the works, Myrvhold can expect his work to be pirated again.
Modernist Cuisine.

Pirated? Yes

Comprising 2,438 stunning, full-color pages across six separate volumes, Modernist Cuisine has been described as "the cookbook to end all cookbooks." Equal parts history, science and survey of contemporary trends, the book's beautiful, bonkers recipes transform raw ingredients like eggs and carrots into unrecognizable forms—pebbles, gels, foams—using non-standard laboratory-grade cooking equipment like centrifuges and liquid nitrogen.

First published in 2011, Modernist Cuisine was the brainchild of Nathan Myrvhold, the former CTO of Microsoft and culinary school graduate. Working with a staff of more than 50, it took Myrvhold more than five years to complete the book. But from the moment of its conception Modernist Cuisine was a target for the pirates, and in 2012, on the underground torrent site what.cd, a user named "buffguy" uploaded a complete PDF copy. Included with the post was a note, detailing the 200 hours it had taken to scan, edit and organize all two thousand plus pages. Soon, the pirated version Modernist Cuisine was posted to numerous other torrent sites, including a dedicated cookbook piracy concern called deli.sh.

But the rip of Modernist Cuisine wasn't just about food. For years, the pirates had been fighting a guerilla battle against the intellectual property enforcers, and Myrvhold was a tempting target: in addition to his work as a chef, he is also the founder of Intellectual Ventures, a business which buys up underused patent portfolios then shakes down large corporations by threatening infringement lawsuits on their behalf. (Myrvhold claims this unpopular "patent-trolling" spurs innovation; he's even argued that gastronomy would advance more quickly if chefs were permitted to copyright their recipes.)

Right or wrong, the boundaries of intellectual property remain bitterly contested, and, with further editions of Modernist Cuisine in the works, Myrvhold can expect his work to be pirated again.

5. Buckingham Nicks - Buckingham Nicks

Pirated? YesLook at young Stevie: her hair uncolored, her gaze expectant, her nose intact. Her boyfriend Lindsey's here too, and their first collaboration was one of the more auspicious songwriting debuts of the 70s. Too bad no one heard it—this album tanked so bad that Nicks had to write "Landslide" just to move on. Later, the duo joined Mick and the McVies for the second (or maybe third) incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, and if you care at all about music, you know the rest of the story. But this forgotten pressing was never officially digitized, not even on CD. You can only hear it now, because somewhere, once, some vinyl nerd ran it through an analog-to-digital converter, copyright be damned.
Polydor.

Pirated? Yes

Look at young Stevie: her hair uncolored, her gaze expectant, her nose intact. Her boyfriend Lindsey's here too, and their first collaboration was one of the more auspicious songwriting debuts of the 70s. Too bad no one heard it—this album tanked so bad that Nicks had to write "Landslide" just to move on. Later, the duo joined Mick and the McVies for the second (or maybe third) incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, and if you care at all about music, you know the rest of the story. But this forgotten pressing was never officially digitized, not even on CD. You can only hear it now, because somewhere, once, some vinyl nerd ran it through an analog-to-digital converter, copyright be damned.

6. Jorge Luis Borges - The di Giovanni Translations

Pirated? Yes.In his unforgettable short story "Pierre Menard, the Author of Don Quixote," the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote of a recently-deceased novelist named Pierre Menard, who, by immersing himself in the culture and language of medieval Spain, somehow managed to re-write Don Quixote from scratch without referring to the primary text. Menard's Quixote was identical to Cervantes'—"word for word and line for line"—but represented, in the author's estimation, an entirely original work.Borges was obsessed with such questions of authenticity and translation, and when he began translating his own work into English in the late 1960s, he took a similarly unusual approach: in daily sessions with Norman Thomas di Giovanni, a graduate student at Harvard University, Borges re-wrote his own work from scratch. As the two explained in the preface to the 1971 collection The Aleph and Other Stories: "We do not consider English and Spanish as compounded sets of easily interchangeable synonyms… English, for example, is far more physical than Spanish. We have therefore shunned the dictionary as much as possible and done our best to rethink every sentence in English words."Like Menard's Quixote, these "translations" were in fact unique literary re-imaginings. But, after Borges' died in 1986, his widow rescinded the copyrights for these works. Seeking to recoup the 50% share of licensing revenue that di Giovanni earned from the burgeoning English-language market for Borges, la viuda cut herself a more favorable deal with a different translator, and gradually di Giovanni's wonderful "physical" translations fell out of print. By the start of the 21st century, literary scholars were discussing Borges alongside Kafka, Beckett and Proust, and Di Giovanni first editions were selling for thousands of dollars. Online, a loose confederation of comp-lit Internet pirates started tracking them down one by one. In 2013, after spending years sourcing and scanning the books, a user by the name of "dontsurf" uploaded the complete di Giovanni translations to the private torrent tracker what.cd—a Menard-like masterwork of copyright infringement that would surely have impressed even the Argentine himself.
Raul Urbina / Getty Images

Pirated? Yes.

In his unforgettable short story "Pierre Menard, the Author of Don Quixote," the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote of a recently-deceased novelist named Pierre Menard, who, by immersing himself in the culture and language of medieval Spain, somehow managed to re-write Don Quixote from scratch without referring to the primary text. Menard's Quixote was identical to Cervantes'—"word for word and line for line"—but represented, in the author's estimation, an entirely original work.

Borges was obsessed with such questions of authenticity and translation, and when he began translating his own work into English in the late 1960s, he took a similarly unusual approach: in daily sessions with Norman Thomas di Giovanni, a graduate student at Harvard University, Borges re-wrote his own work from scratch. As the two explained in the preface to the 1971 collection The Aleph and Other Stories:

"We do not consider English and Spanish as compounded sets of easily interchangeable synonyms… English, for example, is far more physical than Spanish. We have therefore shunned the dictionary as much as possible and done our best to rethink every sentence in English words."

Like Menard's Quixote, these "translations" were in fact unique literary re-imaginings. But, after Borges' died in 1986, his widow rescinded the copyrights for these works. Seeking to recoup the 50% share of licensing revenue that di Giovanni earned from the burgeoning English-language market for Borges, la viuda cut herself a more favorable deal with a different translator, and gradually di Giovanni's wonderful "physical" translations fell out of print.

By the start of the 21st century, literary scholars were discussing Borges alongside Kafka, Beckett and Proust, and Di Giovanni first editions were selling for thousands of dollars. Online, a loose confederation of comp-lit Internet pirates started tracking them down one by one. In 2013, after spending years sourcing and scanning the books, a user by the name of "dontsurf" uploaded the complete di Giovanni translations to the private torrent tracker what.cd—a Menard-like masterwork of copyright infringement that would surely have impressed even the Argentine himself.

7. Christian Marclay - The Clock (art installation)

Pirated? NoTo compile his brilliant video art installation The Clock, Christian Marclay deputized a half-dozen researchers to comb through thousands of movies and television shows, looking for clips where readable clocks appeared on screen. Marclay then logged the exact times shown in the clips, and, over the next three years, stitched these images into a 24-hour movie that was itself a meta-clock that told perfect time. Walk into the installation at precisely 10:04 P.M., for example, and you'd find yourself watching the scene from Back to the Future where the lightning hits the bell tower. Walk in at noon, and you'd get High Noon. As The Clock is a montage of appropriated images, it's a natural target for pirates. But in 2011, a copy of the artwork sold for nearly half a million dollars, and who has that kind of money? Recently, members of the underground torrent site Pass the Popcorn proposed an alternative approach: if The Clock can't easily be pirated, perhaps it can be remade. By crowdsourcing a list of every single one of The Clock's reference materials, then sourcing that footage from already pirated material, it might be possible to create an identical version of The Clock without ever having access to the original. The project remains ongoing.
Rafa Rivas / Getty Images

Pirated? No

To compile his brilliant video art installation The Clock, Christian Marclay deputized a half-dozen researchers to comb through thousands of movies and television shows, looking for clips where readable clocks appeared on screen. Marclay then logged the exact times shown in the clips, and, over the next three years, stitched these images into a 24-hour movie that was itself a meta-clock that told perfect time. Walk into the installation at precisely 10:04 P.M., for example, and you'd find yourself watching the scene from Back to the Future where the lightning hits the bell tower. Walk in at noon, and you'd get High Noon.

As The Clock is a montage of appropriated images, it's a natural target for pirates. But in 2011, a copy of the artwork sold for nearly half a million dollars, and who has that kind of money? Recently, members of the underground torrent site Pass the Popcorn proposed an alternative approach: if The Clock can't easily be pirated, perhaps it can be remade. By crowdsourcing a list of every single one of The Clock's reference materials, then sourcing that footage from already pirated material, it might be possible to create an identical version of The Clock without ever having access to the original.

The project remains ongoing.

8. J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter: The Complete Story (as read by Stephen Fry)

Pirated? YesIt takes more than 125 hours to listen to the British comedian Stephen Fry read all 1.5 million words of the Harry Potter saga out loud. Working in teams, it took the torrenters just a fraction of that time to rip all 104 CDs from this audiobook collection and post them to the Net. But the Potterverse is a dangerous place, haunted by Werewolves, Dementors, Boggarts… and J.K. Rowling's formidable copyright lawyers. When this audiobook was first posted to the private torrent site Oink's Pink Palace in 2007, lawyers working for Rowling exposed Alan Ellis, the site's proprietor, and reported him to the British authorities. Soon Oink was shut down, and Ellis arrested for conspiracy to defraud. But a good pirate never stays locked up for long: in 2010, Ellis was declared innocent, and today, links to the complete audiobook can be found at dozens of sites.
Random House.

Pirated? Yes

It takes more than 125 hours to listen to the British comedian Stephen Fry read all 1.5 million words of the Harry Potter saga out loud. Working in teams, it took the torrenters just a fraction of that time to rip all 104 CDs from this audiobook collection and post them to the Net. But the Potterverse is a dangerous place, haunted by Werewolves, Dementors, Boggarts… and J.K. Rowling's formidable copyright lawyers. When this audiobook was first posted to the private torrent site Oink's Pink Palace in 2007, lawyers working for Rowling exposed Alan Ellis, the site's proprietor, and reported him to the British authorities. Soon Oink was shut down, and Ellis arrested for conspiracy to defraud. But a good pirate never stays locked up for long: in 2010, Ellis was declared innocent, and today, links to the complete audiobook can be found at dozens of sites.

9. Wu-Tang Clan - Once Upon a Time in Shaolin

Pirated? NoSaid to be the Wu-Tang Clan's final release, this 31-track double album is being sold as a limited edition—of one. The rap collective is seeking a seven-figure price for the album, and has contracted the online auction house Paddle8 to manage the sale. The buyer will receive the only existing physical pressing of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: two CDs, cased in a hand-carved silver box, further nested inside a velvet-lined cedar box, bound in leather. The buyer is most likely to be a man, under 40, with a lot of disposable income and an emotional investment in the Wu-Tang myth—perhaps a tech billionaire, or a Qatari prince. Once the deal closes, he is free to do whatever he wishes with the discs. He can hoard them forever; he can release the tracks one by one over a period of years; he can upload them all to Soundcloud at once. "We've received several interesting, legitimate offers over the past few months," says Paddle8's Sarah Goulet, "Including one particularly interesting bid. I think you could see a sale sometime in the three or four weeks."So who is he? Will he leak it?"I can't get into specifics," says Goulet.Will the buyer at least identify himself after the sale?"Maybe. The other collectors, from day one, never wanted to be identified. But this particular buyer, possibly. It could be an interesting conversation."Sean Parker?"No. And that's your last guess."
Wu-Tang Clan

Pirated? No

Said to be the Wu-Tang Clan's final release, this 31-track double album is being sold as a limited edition—of one. The rap collective is seeking a seven-figure price for the album, and has contracted the online auction house Paddle8 to manage the sale. The buyer will receive the only existing physical pressing of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: two CDs, cased in a hand-carved silver box, further nested inside a velvet-lined cedar box, bound in leather.

The buyer is most likely to be a man, under 40, with a lot of disposable income and an emotional investment in the Wu-Tang myth—perhaps a tech billionaire, or a Qatari prince. Once the deal closes, he is free to do whatever he wishes with the discs. He can hoard them forever; he can release the tracks one by one over a period of years; he can upload them all to Soundcloud at once. "We've received several interesting, legitimate offers over the past few months," says Paddle8's Sarah Goulet, "Including one particularly interesting bid. I think you could see a sale sometime in the three or four weeks."

So who is he? Will he leak it?

"I can't get into specifics," says Goulet.

Will the buyer at least identify himself after the sale?

"Maybe. The other collectors, from day one, never wanted to be identified. But this particular buyer, possibly. It could be an interesting conversation."

Sean Parker?

"No. And that's your last guess."

Stephen Witt is the author of the forthcoming book How Music Got Free, on sale from Viking on June 16, 2015.