February 24, 2006 12:13 PM PST

Are Usenet fans vulnerable to copyright lawsuits?

In a new series of lawsuits, Hollywood studios for the first time are targeting companies that provide access to Usenet newsgroups.

This corner of the Internet, largely a leftover from the days before the Web exploded into the mainstream, rarely gets much attention. It's still primarily a forum for text discussions (and overwhelming amounts of spam), where techies help one another with Windows and driver problems, and animal lovers share cat stories.

But in the last few years, a handful of technologies have emerged that have made newsgroups a much more fertile place for downloading copies of movies, music and software. Here's a quick primer on what happens there and what the Motion Picture Association of America has done.

Q: What are newsgroups?
A: Also known as Usenet, newsgroups are one of the earliest forms of sustained conversation online. Initially started by Duke University graduate students in 1980, Usenet evolved over the years into thousands of individual newsgroups that focused on specific subjects such as dogs, science fiction authors, politics or pornography.

Readers post messages similar to e-mails to a specific group. All the content of that group is relayed through servers across the Net, and can be read with a newsgroup reader such as Forte's Agent, or inside some other Web browser and e-mail programs. Most ISPs subscribe to a newsgroup feed, though these are becoming harder to find. Google archives much of Usenet's traffic, all the way back to January 1981, at groups.google.com.

Another historical note: Before becoming a Web standby, the "frequently asked questions," or FAQ, format was widely popularized on newsgroups (though it didn't originate with them).

Q: What does this have to do with piracy?
A: Early on, people learned to send pictures, movies or even full software applications through Usenet groups by breaking the large files into small individual pieces and sending them separately. These large files, called "binaries," could be reconstructed by most newsgroup software, as long as all the pieces came through.

Q: Is this the same as file-sharing?
A: In a sense. Uploading a copyrighted file to a newsgroup is illegal, and the recording industry has targeted individual posters in the past (though largely before peer-to-peer networks emerged).

But unlike peer-to-peer networks, the files uploaded are stored in pieces on the Usenet servers around the world, not on individual computer users' hard drives.

Q: Isn't all this harder than using BitTorrent or eDonkey?
A: For most of Usenet's history, it has been much harder, and more inefficient. Big movie or software files can be broken into hundreds of individual pieces, for example, and if one or two get lost, it can make the whole movie or application unusable.

But in the last few years, several technologies have emerged to make this easier.

One, called Par files (shortened from Parity), lets big files be reconstructed even if some of the individual pieces are missing. Par files are used in other places where data transfer is unreliable, and they are becoming increasingly common on Usenet.

The other technology is an innovation similar, in a sense, to BitTorrent's torrent files. Dubbed NZB files (and created by a company called NewzBin), they automatically group together all the disparate pieces of a big binary file, allowing it to be downloaded and reconstructed with a single click.

Q: Who is the MPAA actually targeting?
A: With this round of suits, the MPAA is focusing on a small group of companies that search the Usenet feeds for movies, software, music and other files. Some of them provide the NZB files along with the search results, so the files can be instantly downloaded. Others simply provide an index of everything that's been posted to newsgroups.

Q: Are newsgroup search engines illegal, then?
A: That's a tricky question. The MPAA says all the sites they've sued are facilitating piracy. But the legal status of search engines has never quite been clarified, and indeed, Google itself is the largest newsgroup search tool in existence.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides a legal shield, or "safe harbor" for search engines that meet a certain set of requirements, including the ability for copyright holders to request that links to copyrighted material be taken down.

BinNews, a Florida-based site that was sued on Thursday, contends that it doesn't provide direct links to files and in fact helps copyright holders find their works on Usenet so they can be removed. Its owner, a 31-year-old businessman named Joe (he declined to provide his last name), says he'll fight the lawsuit.

Q: Are people who have uploaded or downloaded copyrighted files from Usenet at legal risk?
A: The current lawsuits are targeting only the search engines and NZB file hubs. However, as with virtually every activity on the Internet, uploading and downloading files from Usenet does leave a trace that can be tracked back to the individual ISP and computer, if copyright holders dedicate enough resources to it.

See more CNET content tagged:
Usenet, newsgroup, lawsuit, BitTorrent, P2P

33 comments

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Something is not quite right?
Given the basic precepts of how both usenet and bit torrentent function, together with the fact that the sites listed are the indexes only and not the library(unlike Napster), something is very fundamentally flawed here with this announcement!

The question is, where is the actual legal evidence of these actions filed allegedly by the MPAA, ie which court,where, when, where are the copies of the subpeona's, court records et al!

Finally, why didn't the filing reporter ask all the basic six journalist stock in trade questions, failing to do so equals propaganda in any language!

So the new question is , is it fact/fiction or propaganda, to ensue the MPAA bought and paid for congressmen and senators pass the new DMCA act on steriods to outlaw all fair use in preparation for the launch of the tied rights HDTV and Bluray?

Oh well, until the correct fact and information arrive on the scene, I can only deem this as pure corporate propaganda of the 1st magnitude!

Shame, the reporters and the current mainstream news media appear to follow the Judith M. New York Times style of fiction before the fact reporting!

Time will tell!!!!!!!

Give us all the evidence, not propaganda!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just a matter of time
Has anyone done a study on the amount of resources, time, money, and effort that the RIAA and MPAA have spent in tracking down these numerous piracy activities? I'm sure it's in the BILLIONS if someone were to add it up.

Now, take into account how much return they've gotten from it. Sure, you hear about the $10,000 plus settlements here and there as scare tactics, but I'm sure the return is FAR less than the effort spent. Also, with declining sales in both the Movie and Recording industries it's just a matter of time for one of the following situations to occur.

1. The MPAA and RIAA will decline into smaller and smaller insignificant industries as they lose more and more money by suing their own customers, until we won't need to hear about their stupid ranting and raving about how EVERYONE's involved in piracy!

2. The MPAA and RIAA will get off their high horses and come to terms with reality. BOTH of their OLD SCHOOL business models are history. Technology evolves WAY faster than the courts can handle their sue-happy lawyers. WAKE UP YOU IDIOTS! Get smarter and use HALF of the efforts you spend in tracking down piracy activities and use technology to your advantage! Come up with new business models that cater to the download happy masses. Some companies are already doing this. Ever heard of iTunes?? Ever heard of ClickStar?? (Intel and Morgan Freeman's company for downloading theatrical content). Speak to those companies to get ideas on how to MAKE money using Technology as you seem to be having trouble doing this yourselves!
Posted by TMB333 (115 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If truth be told!
If truth be told they have not spent one razoo of their own money, it has come from all those funds that MPAA/RIAA collect under copyright license(call it incidental/other/???(full artist audit is long overdue) prior to disbursement to the actual copyright holders!

This is an industry, that is notorious for keeping two books, to hide real profits from the artists, as Eliot Spitzer in New York AG, amply demonstrated last year!

A full independent audit would be required, to ascertain as to where the resultant recovered funds are being disbursed?

The ENRON collapse and the resultant destruction of Arthur Andersen, along with the very dodgy, recent illegal tax fraud scams run by both ERNST YOUNG and KPMG(see federal AG actions and industry fines recovered), show that even large accounting firms are not immune to conspiring with large corporate clients, to re-write company books to suit any occaision!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Link Flag
Not their fuction.
The MPAA and RIAA do NOT make money! This is the thing you are missing, these companies "protect the rights of their members" through multiple means. They file these suits against infringers and lobby the law makers for new changes that make their job easier or more effective. Any money they make in settlements they use to continue their actions. Their members pay them for this service so they don't have to take the actions themselves.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
A nit
"Uploading a copyrighted file to a newsgroup is illegal"

Hmmm, no. Surely you meant "Uploading an unlicensed file to a newsgroup is illegal". FreeBSD is copyrighted, yet freely redistributable. Heck, every single fotograph made is copyrighted by default, courtesy of the Berne convention, yet lots of people have pics in flikr under Creative Commons freely redistributable licenses.
Posted by quasarstrider (439 comments )
Reply Link Flag
USENET is vulnerable
I keep hearing that they can never tame USENET. Not being familiar with the way it is set up makes me wonder why can't they sue the USENET providers? Dosn't Giganews, Newsgroups.com, Newsguy, and etc. actually provide you with access to unlawful content? Doesn't it make these business vulnerable to the DMCA?

Isen't this a Republican made problem?
Posted by GrandpaN1947 (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey, I remember you....
You never "know much". But regurgitates politically correct rants and rave. Than somehow, it's a "repugnicant" problem.

Hey, how's your god Bush? He caused the hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, temperature changes, et al.
Posted by kamwmail-cnet1 (292 comments )
Link Flag
:)
Looks like its a DEMOCRATIC run school system thats "the problem"

Isen't this a Republican made problem?
^^^^^^
Posted by telestarnext (42 comments )
Link Flag
Usenet is not vulnerable (yet).
The article wants people to think Usenet itself is under fire based on the title and heading. This isn't the case, and won't be for quite a while.

Usenet providers are protected in the same way that email providers are. I could send you copyrighted work via email just as easily as Usenet. Right now content stored on Usenet does infringe on copyrights, and it's a matter of time before the MPAA and RIAA target the content (and not links to it) more directly.

They may already be doing this with how they lobby the law makers. Some laws need to change before they can really take Google or Giganews to court and require them to take down content. They are a neutral party providing a service that is not designed for the kinds of file trading that the current P2P networks are.

The MPAA and RIAA will next step up to track those who post this material and likely request IP addresses of those who have downloaded specific posts. In Usenet you download headers that give you the subject, email and other data related to the post without being able to read the entire post. Once you download the post, you have received the infringing content.

The DMCA provides for the RIAA and MPAA to go after you for digital versions of the material even if they are not intact. So if you download 5 out of 2000 chunks of a file, they can still sue you.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
USENET is NOT vulnerable
> I keep hearing that they can never tame USENET.

At the end of the day, it's almost impossible to tame USENET.

> Not being familiar with the way it is set up
> makes me wonder why can't they sue the USENET
> providers?

Think of USENET as a public distribution list. You post a message to a USENET group and it gets sent to thousands of machines worldwide, each with its own copy of your message. If the MPAA/RIAA sued USENET providers, to be completely effective, they'd have to sue _all_ USENET providers worldwide. For each and every infringement.

> Dosn't Giganews, Newsgroups.com, Newsguy, and
> etc. actually provide you with access to
> unlawful content?

USENET is not necessarily unlawful. Google Groups is nothing more than a Web interface to the text-only parts of USENET.

That's why it's so hard to shutdown USENET. It's distributed nature makes it hard to target one company/computer. The fact that Google works with the legal parts of it also helps it stay alive.

John
Posted by jcubed_la (1 comment )
Link Flag
Not sure if downloaders' effected.
Not too sure how people who download from newsgroups will be effected. Sure, people who upload copy righted material can be hunted down if they're stupid. But most people upload via anonymous servers in Europe.

To track the downloaders, you'd need one VERY Broad subpoena to each ISP. And I thought ISP's have a legal umbrella protecting them from such onerous "fact finding" stunts.

Put another way: if Microsoft can't hunt down and prosecute people who downloaded their OS' from the newsgroup, how's the MPAA going to?
Posted by kamwmail-cnet1 (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is easier than that...
The DMCA provides them with the way to request that information be taken down. They just need to use it. MPAA and RIAA can request that specific Usenet posts be removed because they believe in good faith that these infringe on the copyrights they are authorized to enforce.

They can then seek that the courts provide a request for all of the data stored on the servers related to those posts. If the Usenet provider records each download then the MPAA or RIAA can go after those downloaders.

It's important to note that you have two types of downloads in Usenet. One is just pulling the headers (no copyright material is moved). The "reading" of the post you pull the MIME encoded attachment to the message.

DMCA further provides them with means to go after people who have only a portion of a digitial version of the copyrighted works. So you can download 1 piece of 20,000 chunks and be violating the law.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Where is the BSA?
The BSA has been a long time watchdog on the Usenet where software file trades have been more common than music or movies. I don't see mention of them yet.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BSA seems to be useless
I reported a former employer regarding illegal use
in-house of Microsoft and other software and after
months of so called investigation they closed the
case with no action taken!
I suppose small businesses aren't worth their
efforts to prosecute, so individuals on Usenet
probably aren't worth going after either.
Posted by drkatz (4 comments )
Link Flag
FreeBSD
FreeBSD is copyrighted, yet freely redistributable. Heck, every single fotograph made is copyrighted by default, courtesy of the Berne convention

David
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hostcube.co.uk/1and1-review.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.hostcube.co.uk/1and1-review.php</a>
Posted by ip_fresh (59 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some notes
It's been a looong time since Usenet was primarily for
discussions. Google Groups gives a distorted view of things
because it leaves out the binary content, but Web boards have
really taken over that function in many cases.

There have been copyright actions here and there in the past,
but they have been on a small scale. The server operators are in
a somewhat better situation than the P2P operators, in part
because there is some legitimate traffic left and also in part
because the client-server arrangement means that there are
service providers in place who get some OCILLA protection.
Posters are exposed to liability, but it would be much harder to
shut down Usenet server operators than it would be to pull down
a company like Grokster. With server operators scattered
around the world and not all subject to the same laws, it will be
tough for copyright owners to do much more than slow things
down slightly.
Posted by cheesemaster (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, they go after people who post movies
I've twice had movie studios serve takedown notices to my ISP
because of movies posted to Usenet. In both cases it was
because someone posted movies using fake email addresses
that happened to match a domain I own. So yes, they go after
posters--but they aren't always too bright about how they do it.
On the other hand, when I set up a cancelbot to delete forged
postings from my domain, and cc the fact to the ISP/news-
hoster where the postings were made, I got some very negative
backlash from the companies. Some of them do *not* want to
know about illegal activity by their users.
Posted by (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cancel requests are ignored
For someone whos knows how to cancel posts im surprised you are not aware that almost every provider ignores cancel requests.

This is to prevent malicious deletions - especially by the likes of the MPAA.
Posted by richto (895 comments )
Link Flag
I agree
They go after people who download movies... by the way is it still illegal if you download movies just to watch them and not sell them...?

-----------

"If you think you know everything, you should know about <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.enthem.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.enthem.com</a> by now"
Posted by stansoft (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Irresponsible Written Hype Piece BS
This "news" piece is a hype propaganda piece that is irresponsibly written.

They author's title,
"Are Usenet fans vulnerable to copyright lawsuits"
asks a question that it doesnt even address much less answer. The subject of the content is the MPAA is going after some search engines. What does the actual story have to do with the title asking if the users are risking lawsuits?!!

Then, the lame final statement saying that all internet has a trace when responding to the question is an irresponsible hype statement. Usenet POSTERS can be tracked if they are sloppy. Usenet leachers are not traceable any more then your email can be picked out of the hat to see if you are doing anything illegal.. P2P and Usenet are day/nigh different creatures. To imply so or even ask the question about risk in this Authors context is both HYPE, shows his ignorance and lack of knowledge and only scares people who don't know otherwise. All this the sake of catching your EYE,, This type of "journalism" has no place here. Shame on Cnet for publishing this.
Posted by mlmcasual (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't worry too much ...
Ol' n3td3v has been copying and pasting his way to his present reputation for some time now. The more you read of his blather and the more sites he complains about that banned/moderated/ignored him, the more apparent his unimportance will become. He's quite a chuckle in FD...

I think I'll start the "International L0ngJ0hn Group" and claim posting to forums and newsgroups constitutes worldwide collaboration with real people - but then I might end up like him and start actually believing it :-)

LJ
Posted by L0ngJ0hn (1 comment )
Link Flag
Irrespnsible Article.
This "news" piece is a piece that is irresponsibly written.

They author's title,
"Are Usenet fans vulnerable to copyright lawsuits"
asks a question that it doesnt even address much less answer. The subject of the content is the MPAA is going after some search engines. What does the actual story have to do with the title asking if the users are risking lawsuits?!!

Then, the final statement saying that all internet has a trace when responding to the question is an irresponsible hype statement. Usenet POSTERS can be tracked true, but Usenet leachers are not traceable any more then your email can be picked out of the hat to see if you are doing anything illegal.. P2P and Usenet are day/night different creatures. To imply so or even ask the question about risk in this Authors context is both HYPE, shows his ignorance and lack of knowledge and only scares people who don't know otherwise. All this the sake of catching your EYE,, This type of "journalism" has no place here. Shame on Cnet for publishing this.
Posted by mlmcasual (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Go after the source
I'm waiting for them to go after the REAL source...

the politican who claimed credit for inventing the information superhighway.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Reply Link Flag
why stop there?
Why not go after the guy who invented the computer? Afterall, I can practice piracy without ever touching the internet!
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
 

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