Usenet Feels The Heat As Copyright Holders Try To Strip Away Content

Usenet is a lesser known file-sharing system that its fans have tried to keep under the radar for years. However, the genie has been out of the bottle for a long time and with an increasingly tech-savvy userbase Usenet has managed to attract millions of paying customers. Although still nowhere as big as BitTorrent, there are now increasing signs that copyright holders large and small are targeting their takedown resources on Usenet.

Despite the BitTorrent explosion of the past few years there have always been file-sharers who believe that if you want secure access to content at the fastest speeds, Usenet is the place to obtain it.

Usenet does indeed have inherent security (at least for downloaders) and due to its users handing over hard cash for services, bandwidth is in plentiful supply. Couple this with retention (the length of time content is held on servers after upload) of around 1000 days and simple downloading mechanisms with NZB files, Usenet’s attraction has increased massively in the last few years.

But despite these perceived upsides, users are complaining more often that content they expect to be present on Usenet servers has actually gone by the time they try to retrieve it. The culprit – DMCA takedowns.

Speaking with Dutch news site Tweakers, Mark van Herpen, who is responsible for the processing of notice-and-takedown requests at Usenet provider Tweak News, says that in the past six months there has been a rapid increase in DMCA-type notices received from copyright holders, and not just the large ones either.

“It’s not necessarily big parties like Disney who want their content taken offline,” said Van Herpen. “Sometimes they are television companies too.”

On that front (although not exactly small) the UFC definitely appear to be targeting Usenet more heavily than in the past. After reading several complaints that UFC content was being quickly removed from Usenet immediately following their live events, we approached their anti-piracy company for comment.

“What my team does is monitor usenet 24/7 using a Bayesian Classifier. We also verify everything 100% to ensure we are making the proper removal requests for the UFC and our other clients,” Joe Morganelli of Morganelli Group LLC told TorrentFreak.

“My team also has many ‘insiders’ that keep us on the pulse of what is going on with changes. There is no other company that does what we do with such success and speed.”

Morganelli refused to go into further detail with us on how this all works but what is clear is that aside from monitoring Usenet directly, anti-piracy companies are also getting their information from Usenet indexing sites such as Newzbin and NZBMatrix. When people post up links to content, this is monitored by anti-piracy companies directly and orders for that content to be removed are issued straight away.

“The public has only just started to notice it now,” said the owner of another major Usenet provider who does not want to be named. “The increase is continuing. We’re pretty heavily under attack at the moment.”

The systems being used by rightsholders are increasingly automated and according to Steve, a representative from popular Usenet company Astraweb, his company has little choice but to comply with each and every one or risk becoming a target.

“We have an automated process. Nearly everything about Usenet is an automated process, and DMCA notification processing is just another automated process,” he explained recently.

“DMCAs: it’s a given. We receive, we process! No debates! End of story! If we want to continue to operate as a business, we have to comply or get shut down.”

Steve said that his company is receiving more DMCAs than it has done in the past due to false rumors that his company doesn’t respond to DMCA notices, but what is clear is that many providers are feeling the strain in their takedown departments.

Niels Huijbregts, spokesman for Xs4all, reported an increase in newsgroup takedown notices during the legal battle between BREIN and News-Service Europe, a fight that BREIN won.

“When the case was ongoing in court a huge number of notice-and-takedowns came in,” Huijbregts says, adding that he suspected BREIN wanted to show that the company did not adequately respond to the requests. Whatever the response, the outcome was catastrophic for News-Service who soon announced their closure.

While there can be little doubt that Usenet is being targeted more heavily than in the past, a content-removal crisis point is yet to be reached with many people perfectly happy with their lot. That said, a tipping point could soon be here. Already there is a growing feeling that BitTorrent is a better bet if people want to be sure that the content they seek is actually still online.

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