Performing rights group GEMA has won an injunction against newsgroup outfit, UseNeXT. A court has forbidden the Usenet company from offering around 100 musical works from the GEMA repertoire and says that in the future, Usenet operators will have to take a greater responsibility for the environments and services they offer.
UseNeXT is a brand operated by Munich and London-based company, Aviteo Ltd. UseNeXT is one of the most popular Usenet services around today and has traditionally advertised extensively within the BitTorrent community and on many torrent sites.
On 19 December 2006, performing rights group GEMA, which handles the copyrights of more than 1 million rightsholders worldwide, filed for an injunction against UseNeXT. GEMA had earlier leveled accusations at UseNeXT’s advertising in which it said, among other things, the company claimed to offer 1 million MP3s through its service.
“[UseNeXT] advertised its fee-based access with unambiguous references to illegal exchange platforms. In particular it publicized the anonymity, speed and security of access to contents available on Usenet,” GEMA said in a statement, adding: “On top of that, the service also offers special, perfected search software that makes it easier to locate and manage musical works and other contents protected by copyright.”
On 18 January 2007, the Hamburg District Court issued a preliminary injunction against UseNeXT’s operators, which included instructions for it to change the way in which it advertised its product and barring it from providing musical works from GEMA’s repertoire. UseNeXT objected to the decision and disputed that it had ever encouraged subscribers to download copyright works, arguing that its use of the terms ‘unfiltered’ and ‘anonymous’ related to features inherent in the Usenet system.
On 17 February 2010, the Hamburg District Court handed down a preliminary injunction against UseNeXT which bars the service from offering a sample 100 musical works to which GEMA administers the copyright. The injunction also states that UseNeXT must go further than simply modifying its advertising in order to protect GEMA’s copyrights.
Although not necessarily liable for infringements, the Court said that Usenet providers would have to take responsibility for the services and environments they provide.
In a statement, GEMA said that the Court of Hamburg’s decision represents expanded liabilities for Usenet providers which go further than regulating their approach to advertising, but also apply when modified advertising proves insufficient to protect rights holders.
“The adoption of the preliminary injunction is a success in our commitment to the protection of copyright,” said Dr. Harald Heker, Chief Executive Officer of GEMA. “Second, the ruling also represents a further important step towards a comprehensive responsibility of the Usenet service operator for its offer.”
At this stage it’s unclear how UseNeXT will choose to comply with the injunction. Unlike services such as Rapidshare that operate their own servers and actually store content, UseNeXT are a reseller of the Highwinds Usenet service. UseNeXT does not store any content, Highwinds do.
UseNeXT used to offer a search engine and software interface to access Usenet, so conceivably something could’ve been implemented there to bar access to the GEMA titles mentioned in the injunction. However, recent changes to their service means they are no longer offering those solutions but suggesting the use of 3rd party software, with one particular solution from Tangysoft up front.
Nevertheless, the Court said that UseNeXT is responsible for the service it’s re-selling so the company will have to find an answer somehow. Many Usenet providers are already working with rights holders to automate the removal of content, so solutions are available. How quickly and comprehensively UseNeXT acts will remain to be seen.