Hmmmmmm. Sleek, silky smooth black body. Nice tight little footprint. Little grippy rubber keys. It’s Christmas 1986, you’re 14 years old and you’ve just unwrapped what in the future will be seen as a monumental shift in home entertainment. The Sinclair Spectrum 48k had arrived and you’re as excited as you were when you saw your first bra.
You slam home your Horace Goes Skiing uber game and hit PLAY. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuw Bip !!!! The header file descriptor pops up. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuw Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip ……….and loads. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuw Bip !!!! The data file descriptor pops up. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuw Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii……………………..
You wait patiently for the ten minutes it takes for the game to load into the massive 48k memory….and then roar down the slopes at a million miles an hour as giant spiders and trees flash by….Brilliant. But a 14 year old in 1986 can’t afford games. Not at £10 a throw. I could barely afford the Mastertronic £1.99 games off the market. Luckily my school friends could, and quite early on I cottoned to the fact that games tapes could be copied. So I copied them. Usually to C90’s from Boots the chemist. Much, much cheaper. And so a long, un-illustrious, tempestuous love affair began with piracy.
I’ve pirated just about everything in my time, from Speccy games to DVDs and quite a lot in between, but I think things really started to get silly in the late 90’s. I spend a lot of time watching movies, so naturally before online DVD rentals, I spent a lot of time at my local video shop choosing films and chatting up the female members of staff, who would let me borrow pretty much what I wanted as long as it was last thing before lock up and as long as I posted it through the door so it was there for opening. So, like a good little capitalist, I took as many as I could get away with and I made copies for myself to watch at a later date. Before long I had a good few hundred tapes which I was then copying again for mates, for a small fee of course. Before much longer, I had a pretty stable client base on the south coast and it was growing fast because of my dedication to quality. All pirate films were recorded macrovision free, with no lumps bumps or distortion of sound quality, and sleeves and labels were printed with a nice new ‘bubble-jet’ printer onto glossy card. See, I still got the sales patter…you want some don’t you, be honest?
Then, something magical happened!!! A real stroke of luck. A local radio station had a phone-in competition to win a month’s free video rentals. WOW!! I enter the competition and to my surprise, I win!!! The next Friday a name would be drawn from the previous weeks winners to win a whole YEAR of FREE VHS rentals. Friday came and so did the phone call. I WON!!!! I very nearly had a trouser accident I was so excited. What an opportunity!
So I got to know the staff at my new rental outlet too. Mark (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) was very interested in my little enterprise and we would have many a coffee evening, chatting at the counter about what films he wanted and how much discount he was getting, all safe in the knowledge that the shop security camera recorded only images and no sound. Later, I’d borrow the sleeves and copy them too, as well as the front and spine labels. It was all very professional. I was making a small fortune and everything looked rosey. The money was rolling in, and I’d even perfected the art of getting a factory-sealed-coiled-ninja-spring-loaded rental tape apart. I’d remove the tape, replace it with a cut down E180 el-cheapo copy and return it. That way, I would always have the original tape to copy, no more photocopies of photocopies. Quality tapes, and yours for only five quid a pop or three for a tenner.
Then it all went horribly, drastically wrong. One day, some other enterprising little stick stole some cases from the store. The security tape was duly taken home by the manageress who reviewed it to see who the culprit was. The good new is, it wasn’t me. The bad news is that I had been sat chatting to Mark at the counter over a coffee and a couple of jam doughnuts that very day. The really bad news was that the security tape actually DID have sound on it. The really really bad news was that the police were on their way to my house, along with a FACT officer in a suit. Luckily, Mark managed to phone me not 20 minutes before they arrived to warn me.
It was a race against time. I made several million hurried trips up and down my stairs and into the garden where I deposited box upon box upon of ‘master’ VHS tapes over the six foot fence into my next door neighbour’s garden in addition to over 600 Playstation game copies. The police arrived with the fed guy, looking quite serious. I was grilled for over an hour about my operation, and every drawer in the house was violated as they searched. Somehow, they knew I had been tipped off so I could get rid of the evidence. They found only one pirate VHS tape which was in a very well presented box (so good in fact I myself overlooked it). I was bricking it. Sweating like a nineteen stone marathon runner wearing my favourite shell suit and my best poker face.
Looking back now, it was like being grilled by Agent Smith in his ridiculous sunglasses indoors and I was totally expecting to be carted off and tortured and even executed. Or even killed. Then tortured again for a bit until I was blubbering like a baby and confessing to everything from dipping my fingers in the sugar at the age of three to the most heinous and despicable act of dressing up in skintight leopard-skin all-in-one cat suit for an ABBA tribute concert and inadvertently baring my butt on a twenty foot video wall in front of hundreds of naïve shocked 70s revivalists. Eh-hem – anyways, moving on………
I was cautioned, and I was fined a substantially (but still far far far far – repeat to fade – less than I’d made), and I got away with it !!! I wasn’t a ‘big-fish’, I was an insignificant boil on the face of humanity, worthy of nothing more than a quick lancing and a caution. Unfortunately, Mark lost his job. Worse still, I lost my membership and my free tapes for the year.