Usenet Portal Loses Landmark Court Case Against BREIN

FTD, one of the largest Usenet communities on the Internet, has lost the legal proceedings it started against Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN. The case, through which FTD hoped to have its operations declared legal, today resulted in a verdict which prohibits community members from talking about 'locations' where copyright infringing material can be downloaded.

Founded in 2001, FTD is The Netherlands’ largest Usenet community with around 500,000 members. FTD and its associated software allows its members to ‘spot’ the location of material they find on Usenet, which could include the locations of copyrighted movies, music and TV shows.

Two years ago, FTD turned the tables on Dutch anti-piracy BREIN by taking the outfit to court. FTD asked the court to declare that it operates within the boundaries of Dutch law, and further requested BREIN to retract an earlier statement that the Usenet portal operated illegally. Today the court announced its verdict, a negative one for the popular Usenet portal.

Although FTD doesn’t host or even link to any copyrighted material, the Haarlem Court ruled that the portal does provide a promotional venue for uploaders of infringing material, as they can post a description of the locations (so called spots) where these files can be downloaded.

In the verdict the court further confirmed that FTD itself isn’t breaking any copyrights, that FTD users aren’t necessarily breaking any laws either and that spotting itself is not illegal. However, the fact that uploaders of unauthorized content can ‘spot’ files is enough to deem the whole system to be illegal.

“FTD ‘contributed’ to the uploading of materials to Usenet by giving [uploaders] a platform to announce their evil deed. While only 13 of the 500,000 FTD users were identified as uploaders, the court said that that was enough. FTD is facilitating and stimulating the illegal uploading (posting) of material to Usenet and therefore committing a tort,” FTD’s legal counsel Arnoud Engelfriet informed TorrentFreak.

FTD was ordered to remove so-called spots of copyrighted files within a month. In the event that FTD fails to comply with this order they will have to pay BREIN 15,000 euros per day up to a maximum of 300,000 euros ($410,000).

BREIN welcomed the decision of the Haarlem Court, which also states that the anti-piracy outfit doesn’t have to retract an earlier statement in the Dutch press where it labeled FTD as a criminal organization.

“The principle that you are not allowed to structurally make use of illegal files with your website or service applies not only to Internet but also to Usenet,” said BREIN director Tim Kuik in a comment. “BREIN will also hold liable any other websites and services that do the same regardless of the technical protocol they use for their illegal business model.”

Today’s verdict follows an earlier court decision against the Usenet portal. November last year FTD was found guilty of promoting the illegal uploading of a Dutch movie in a separate case. Whether FTD will appeal, and what the verdict means for the continuation of FTD (and possibly all file-sharing portals) will become clear in the near future.

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