The big brother of the MPAA has Newzbin, the world’s most prominent newsgroup indexer, firmly in its sights. Newzbin, which indexes Usenet and offers its members NZB files, is being sued by the MPA, the global lobby group for the movie industry. The pair are set to fight it out in court, possibly before the end of the year.
While most media attention is focused on the mighty BitTorrent, availability of just about every type of copyrighted digital media continues unabated on Usenet, otherwise known as ‘the newsgroups’. Downloads from Usenet are fast - very fast - with most transfers maxing out the user’s Internet connection. Add to this the excellent security offered by Usenet (people don’t get infringement notices when downloading) and Usenet can prove very attractive, even to the hardened BitTorrent user.
Like most things, however, Usenet has its drawbacks. The main problem lies with its complexity - the learning curve can be a little steep - but with amazing little things called .NZB files, downloading is made almost as easy as BitTorrent. NZB files contain meta-data and without splitting too many hairs, they function in a very similar way to .torrent files. Download an NZB, load it into a news client such as Grabit and very quickly the download is complete.
Newzbin is one of the original Usenet indexing sites and the creator of the .NZB format, which opened Usenet downloading to the masses. In May 2008 it received a threatening letter from the Motion Picture Association (MPA). In the letter, the MPA claimed that some of Newzbin’s editors were listing NZBs which linked to movies on Usenet which infringed their member’s copyright.
In October 2008, ‘Caesium’, the owner of Newzbin made an announcement. “Newzbin has recently received two serious complaints regarding the indexing we perform, and raising doubts as to its legality. It is likely that we will in the coming weeks be presented with a court case and have to defend our rights.”
Noting that Newzbin would defend itself vigorously against the complainants, Caesium said he believed that linking to content on Usenet is entirely legal and that the site’s procedures for dealing with unlawful content is appropriate. “We believe that, or we wouldn’t still be here,” he added.
At the start of December 2008, Newzbin confirmed that it had indeed been removing NZB files that link to infringing movies on Usenet. However, this wasn’t enough for the MPA, who filed an injunction against Newzbin.
Now, four months later, the site is still operating as normal but has received more details about its upcoming battle with the movie companies.
“The latest we’ve heard is that there will be an interim hearing (to hash out administrative details) sometime in the next couple of months, and the case itself will be heard in court sometime between November 2009 and January 2010,” said Caesium in an announcement.
It is far from clear how the legal system will view the operations at Newzbin - no other site of its type has ever appeared in court in the UK, or elsewhere in the world. Newzbin has already been considering that in order to be completely sure of staying within the law it may have to automate its operations and remove human intervention in the creation of its NZB files.
While Newzbin has never, ever hosted any copyright infringing material, previously another newsgroup-related company Usenet.com was sued by the RIAA for actually hosting illicit content. Usenet.com was also criticized over its advertising, which is alleged to encourage piracy.