Newzbin vs MPA Usenet ‘Filtering’ Trial Concludes

After a fairly bumpy ride, the High Court trial between Newzbin and the MPA has reached its conclusion. While the site's owners are claiming that the site will remain open no matter what, a negative result could result in hefty damages and an obligation to make changes to the site, including the implementation of a Mininova-style filter.

Newzbin is one of the original and most popular Usenet indexing sites on the Internet. The site pioneered the increasingly popular .NZB format which simplified previously complicated Usenet downloading.

While most of Hollywood’s legal might was focused on the snowballing BitTorrent scene, Usenet downloading also gained in popularity – and exposure – and by 2008 it soon had Newzbin in the spotlight.

Newzbin received complaints from the studios in May that year, stating that the site was listing NZBs which linked to movies on Usenet which infringed their members’ copyright. In December, Newzbin confirmed it was removing some NZB files at copyright holders’ request but it wasn’t enough and the MPA filed for an injunction.

The London High Court showdown between Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation & Others v Newzbin Ltd before Mr Justice Kitchin began February 1st 2010. Details coming out of the case have been relatively few and entirely from Newzbin’s perspective. TorrentFreak contacted the MPA for their take but they told us they could not comment on an on-going case.

Newzbin reported that the plaintiffs opened with explanations of the .NZB format and how they differ from regular HTML hyperlinks along with accusations that Newzbin’s backend code specifically sought out copyright works on Usenet.

For their part, Newzbin disputed most MPA accusations but nevertheless ended the first day expressing confidence in Judge Justice Kitchin and his ability to preside over a fair trial.

Referencing “bizarre side issues”, “internal Newzbin issues” (later partly clarified as non-conflict related) and the falling ill of Newzbin admin ‘Caesium’ under cross-examination by the plaintiffs’ lawyer, by Day 3 of the trial events had clearly taken a turn for the strange.

After some rest, Caesium re-took the stand on Day 4 and completed his cross-examination, but the picture painted by Newzbin lacked optimism.

“It would be fair to say that the picture painted in court of Newzbin has not been an entirely positive one. Whilst it is hard to double guess Mr Justice Kitchin, Newzbin may have some difficulties in the near future,” said the site’s legal team in a statement, adding that Caesum had been accused of lying repeatedly under oath.

Newzbin requested a pause in proceedings to hire more lawyers, this was granted and there was a 2 week pause in proceedings. During the break, Newzbin made an announcement to clarify a number of points.

If the site lost its case, it would not be closing down – the MPA isn’t asking for that. It’s the manner in which the site operates that’s under the microscope.

“The message we want you to take away is that, win or lose, you can be confident that the site is here to stay in the long term,” said Newzbin. Other assurances were made in respect of user data, which we’ll come to in a moment.

The trial restarted this week on Tuesday 2nd March and concluded yesterday. As previously noted, the MPA are keeping mum right now but Newzbin reported its version of events. The key points:

Although Newzbin believes that the MPA may have been able to convince the court that the indexer facilitated the infringements of its users, it will not be able to prove damages or losses from copying. This stands to reason, as any infringements would have taken place through an entirely different infrastructure to that offered by Newzbin.

Newzbin will not be shut down. There could, however, be an “enquiry as to damages” and a new trial to consider the terms of any injunction which requires the site to block MPA material.

This could mean that Newzbin is required, Mininova-style, to develop and implement filtering mechanisms.

“At the moment we remain unfiltered and we would fight for the current notice and take down system that we already use. Again this is just our best guess and we may be well wide of the mark,” said the company in a statement this morning.

The previously-mentioned Newzbin assurance regarding privacy of user data goes as follows. Although the site does log some activity, it only keeps this data for a short period and details of NZB files downloaded by users are not stored. This means that the MPA will not be able to get their hands on sensitive data.

“One thing the Claimants did complain about was that Newzbin ‘deliberately arranged it’s systems so that no user details were available: even if we got an Anton Pillar [sic] there would be nothing to seize as no logs were kept’,” said this morning’s announcement, adding;

“Equally, since the site has lawful non-infringing use (our hunch is that the judge accepted our arguments on this: he seemed receptive to our submission that GPL, Creative Commons & non-copyright works were on the Indexes) a mere membership of Newzbin proves nothing against any user: the Claimants didn’t contend this anyway.”

The MPA declined to comment at this point, but told TorrentFreak that they believe the verdict could be handed down before the end of the month.

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