Usenet index Newzbin loses MPA court case

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has won its court case against Newzbin this week, meaning that the Usenet indexing service is officially held liable for copyright infringement, even though it doesn’t host any copyrighted material.

The Usenet hasn’t seen a lot of action since the late 1990s, as online forums and social networking sites have filled most of the gaps that it served. Even so plenty of Usenet newsgroups are still used today, and Google still maintains access to Newsgroups via Google Groups. However, certain parts of the Usenet have apparently become a veritable download port for pirated movies, and bizarrely Newzbin is being held responsible.

Unlike most torrent-indexing sites, such as the infamous Pirate Bay, Newzbin’s service is only open to members and requires a subscription fee if you want to do anything other than browse basic post listings. The MPA’s argument is that Newzbin is therefore cynically profiting out of copyright infringement.

Newzbin’s FAQ certainly hints that pirates have been using its service. For example, in answer to the question of whether it’s legal, Newzbin says “we think so, or we wouldn't run it. Nobody has yet proven that running a search engine breaks any laws.” That’s a fair enough answer, but it does make you ask why it’s even in the FAQ if most people are only using Newzbin as an innocent Usenet discussion tool.

According to a statement issued by the MPA, “the court found that the UK-based company [Newzbin] engages in copyright infringement even though the protected content does not reside directly on its website. Rather, Newzbin provides links to unauthorised copies of copyright works, including films, TV programmes, commercial software as well as other illegal content. Newzbin charges a monthly fee for subscribers to use its services and has built a substantial business based on copyright infringement.”

Justifying the need for legal action against Newzbin, the MPA’s general counsel for Europe, Ted Shapiro, explained that “Newzbin is a source of immense damage to the creative sector in the UK and worldwide. This is an important decision and it sends a clear message that websites focusing on providing viewers with pirated film and TV programmes infringe copyright and are liable for their actions even where those websites don't themselves host the content.”

According to Shapiro, the MPA “remains committed to its core mission of encouraging and pursuing common-sense solutions that support the creativity of the motion picture industry and offer film fans the widest possible choice of movies and TV programmes to enjoy.” Sadly, these “common sense solutions” have so far involved filling DVDs with unwanted rubbish such as DRM, region encoding, unskippable trailers and anti-piracy adverts.

A statement from Newzbin said: "We are very disappointed with the judgment. Regrettably the court has accepted the distorted and flawed evidence that Hollywood presented.

"Contrary to the finding of the court our site has not deliberately sought to index infringing material, nor to assist those of our users who use it for that purpose. The site provides a generalised search facility for binary content found on Usenet and not just infringing material. Any of the material we index can be found on any one of thousands of sites on the Internet so pursuit of us is a futile waste of everyone's time and money."

What’s particularly interesting about this case, along with the Pirate Bay case, is that it looks as though the defence that you’re not actually hosting the content doesn’t hold a lot of water in court any more.

Still, we’ll probably have to get used to cases such as this, especially now that we have the Digital Economy Bill. If you want to help in the fight against the Digital Economy Bill, then you can help fund this ad campaign.