As the once minority activity of downloading from newsgroups enters the mainstream, ever-more aggressive copyright-related lawsuits are doing likewise. In this environment Usenet-related companies are becoming increasingly careful to keep their behaviors entirely legal. Leading Usenet provider Giganews has taken the concept to a whole new level.
After many years in the shadows, Usenet has been grabbing its share of copyright-related headlines during the last year.
In July 2009 the recording industry chalked up a significant legal win against Usenet.com. A judge ruled that the company had engaged in direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement and induced others to infringe. Their actions were deemed significant enough to disallow the Usenet provider its rights to ‘safe harbor’ under the DMCA, a very dangerous situation indeed.
Just yesterday the newsgroup world received a further reminder of the legal spotlight tracking their movements as Usenet indexer Newzbin went into liquidation after a ruinous battle with several Hollywood movie studios.
It is therefore entirely appropriate for Usenet-related businesses to stay on both the right side of the law and the incredibly powerful entities who are ready to pounce should they stray off the straight and narrow. Make no mistake, the consequences for missteps can be severe, but one provider seems to have taken its caution just a little too far.
The folks over at Unzbin.com have been beavering away in recent months to make an NZB client that they hope will become the uTorrent of the newsgroups. The Unzbin client is very compact and since receiving a great review at the start of April has been refined further still. But unfortunately they’ve had a little problem in recent days.
At the end of March, Unzbin opened an affiliate account with Giganews, one of the world’s leading Usenet providers. Everything ran fine until a couple of days ago when Unzbin received an email warning – not from the MPAA, but from Giganews.
This letter shall serve as written notice that you are in material breach of the Giganews Terms and Conditions Agreement (“Agreement” or “Terms”) you entered into on March 31, 2010. In Section 3. 2. of the Agreement you represented and warranted that your website(s) would “not contain, display or in any other way communicate any inappropriate or illegal information as determined by Giganews in its sole and unfettered discretion”.
The web pages located at: http://www.unzbin.com/screenshots & http://www.unzbin.com contains instructions on how to illegally download copyrighted material, which is inappropriate or illegal information.
This inappropriate or illegal content found on your website(s) must be removed within a week of the date of this letter. Failure to remove all such content by this date may result in immediate termination of the Agreement in accordance with Section 5.2 of the Terms. We take the intellectual property rights of others very seriously and we encourage all of our Affiliates and Referral Sites to do the same. If you have any questions about this notice or the Agreement in general, please feel free to contact us.
Office of General Counsel
Naughty Unzbin, then? Sadly, not even close. Here is the “copyright infringing” screenshot in question.
Free and legal to download movie. Check. Free and legal to download software. Check. Clearly there has been some sort of mistake then? Apparently not.
Unzbin later received a more personal email from a Giganews Affiliate Manager who explained the problem in more detail but only succeeding in creating more confusion.
Regarding the notice that was just sent to you, there is only one concern on your site, which is the prominence of the example “Steal This Film” in various screenshots of the program being used on the site.
As you know, we can’t control and monitor everything that is uploaded to Usenet, but we also don’t advertise the potential attainability of copyrighted materials and ask the same of all our affiliates. We do know that “Steal This Film” is a free documentary about file sharing and intellectual property, but to most people (and to legal entities), it will appear as instructional usage of your software.
The “Ubuntu” example is perfect, and I think that this is more than adequate in getting across the point of Unzbin’s functionality.
To say the least, Unzbin are very unimpressed with Giganews and expressed this clearly in their response.
As you may know “steal this film” is a documentary which is freely available. We’re not going to remove anything from our website and frankly I don’t understand why Giganews is meddling into our internal affairs. We run our project the way we want and that’s how it’s going to be. I think it’s a very bold and hypocritical move on your part!
And so we’re going to discontinue working with you guys, simply because we do believe in the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We have no tolerance for nazi gestapo practices and threats (which don’t impress or scare me one bit).
Kind regards and a big FUCK YOU,
“This is the second time I can recall that someone has been stupid enough to miss the joke of STEAL THIS FILM: that you *can’t* “steal” something that’s been offered to you willingly,” Jamie King, creator of Steal This Film told TorrentFreak.
“It kind of strains credulity that anyone could be so dumb, but there it is. Obviously we’re delighted Unzbin offer STEAL THIS FILM as a download example and doing so clearly doesn’t violate Giganews’ policies — asking for them to cease and desist amounts to nothing less than a freedom of speech violation,” he concludes.
TorrentFreak wrote to Giganews twice asking for a comment but we have received no response, which is a real shame but not really a surprise. Putting a foot wrong in today’s copyright climate could cost Giganews an absolute fortune and perhaps even their entire business so it is to be expected that they choose to err on the side of caution.
But come on guys….