MPAA Threatens World’s Premier Usenet Indexer

Newzbin, considered by many to be the internet's premier indexer and .nzb provider, is under legal threat from the MPAA. The site, which was the creator of Usenet's answer to the .torrent file, will likely have to undergo significant changes in order to appease the movie studios.

Newzbin is one of the original Usenet indexing sites and creators of the NZB“>.NZB format. In a very general way, .NZB files might be considered Usenet’s equivalent of .torrent files. They make the otherwise-complicated Usenet a breeze to use. Downloading from Usenet with Newzbin is easy, and together with a good news provider, very quick.

The increased popularity of services such as Newzbin didn’t go unnoticed with the MPAA. On 22nd May 2008, administrator ‘Caesium’ made an announcement:

Newzbin has today received a letter from the Motion Picture Association (MPA). In the letter, they claim that some editors may be reporting material from Usenet that is infringing the copyright of their members.

While these claims have not been substantiated, it should be noted that Newzbin does not condone the distribution or indexing of such materials. We will immediately act to remove any items that are found to be infringing copyright.

Please take a moment to refer to our Terms and Conditions, in particular sections 4 and 4.2.

Please note that we may revoke privileges, or ban accounts, of users found to be violating these Terms and Conditions.

Since this announcement, worried Newzbin users have contacted TorrentFreak to see if we could find out exactly what had been going on. Understandably, Newzbin didn’t want to tell us much.

However, if one looks closely at the announcement, it doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know. The terms and conditions have been in place since 2007, there doesn’t appear to be anything new in those.

Of course Newzbin doesn’t condone the indexing of copyright works. How can it? It is a proper company that charges users for access, not an underground operation hiding in the shadows. It appears to comply fully with the laws in the UK, where the service is based. Newzbin also say they will remove anything that infringes copyright. NZB files do not, so at that point they probably believed they would have little work to do.

But the MPAA isn’t known for letting the law stand in the way of a good threat, threats which have closed several US-based NZB sites in the past such as NZB-Zone and forced others to adjust the way they operate. Newzbin has not been sued, we can confirm that, but it will have to change the way it operates too, if it is to comply with the movie industry demands.

Caesium is hinting at possible changes to the site in the future. It’s a possibility that all .NZB related reports will have to be removed. An alternative to appease the MPAA would be to remove only the posts related to movies and TV shows, an arrangement favored by BinNews.com when faced with the same legal threats.

At this point it is far from clear what measures Newzbin will be finally forced to take to stop the threat of legal action turning into an actual lawsuit. Newzbin appear to be being as upfront as they can at this point and are suggesting that if users only use the site for .NZB files, then they should consider not renewing their subscription. For those who aren’t scared of making their own .NZBs ‘BinSearch’-style, the site will still be of great use, even if the most draconian measures are taken.

BinSearch provides Usenet indexing with a do-it-yourself .NZB creator. Anyone who knows the full scene release name of the material they seek will adjust to it in a few minutes, but it’s no Newzbin. For the uninformed, the learning curve is steep.

Newzbin has a secret weapon which has made it so attractive. ‘Editors‘ are essentially human beings who make reports which link to specific content on Usenet. Newzbin can then generate a .NZB file, based on the report. Anyone with an NZB capable news reader, like Grabit, can use them. It seems that it’s this human intervention with the creation of reports which poses the legal headache.

Newzbin is considering that it may have to fully automate its operations in order to be totally sure of staying the friendly side of the law – no more human intervention, no more ‘editor’ named reports. No more easily browsable pre-determined categories. A simple Usenet search engine would likely attract little attention and would be entirely legal, as confirmed by Caesium: “…we’re pretty sure nobody is going to tell us that having an automated searchable index of the entire contents of Usenet is going to cause any problems.”

But why would anyone bother using a degraded Newzbin over, say, the very useful (but limited) ‘BinSearch’? After all, there would be presumably little to separate them, feature-wise.

The plan is to introduce a feature where Newzbin users can tag. This way the site can provide an entirely legal automated index – no Newzbin staff involved – with only the users adding the tags. It sounds like a great solution and may even prove just as workable longer term.

They say every cloud has a silver lining and for Newzbin, that might come in the form of a greatly increased userbase. Newzbin is currently a subscription service but the changes may well turn it into a free site, which effectively opens it up to everyone rather than just its current paying userbase. That’s a hell of a lot of tags. Thankfully there will likely be a ratings system, to ensure quality tagging.

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