The file-sharing world is a multi-headed beast but not just in the traditional ‘hydra’ sense.
The most visible elements are the public torrent sites like The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents and any of the others from the current Top 10. Generally (censorship efforts aside) these sites can be accessed by just about anyone. All that is needed is a torrent client and the ability to read.
A level down in accessibility (but a level up in class if you believe their members) are the private torrent sites. You need to be invited to access these, a situation which no doubt pleases many rightsholders as their walled gardens naturally limit growth and access to content.
Leaving links forums and cyberlockers to one side, Usenet is another good example of a multi-tiered system. Although they tend to cost money to access (which could be considered another barrier), newsgroups are then available to all. Every file and post can be downloaded by anyone via a decent newsgroup search engine such as Binsearch.
Step down a level in accessibility (but a level up in class if you believe their members) and you’ll find the Usenet indexing forums and discussion boards. These can be compared very generally to private torrent sites but with a major difference. While their indexes exist within the confines of their members-only service, the content they rely on is held publicly on Usenet.
This situation causes these sites problems that private BitTorrent trackers just don’t have. Just like everyone else on Usenet, private indexes are at the mercy of anti-piracy companies sending huge numbers of DMCA takedowns to Usenet providers which target content. As previously reported, this phenomenon is growing at an alarming pace.
But despite all the takedowns, content is still being uploaded to Usenet in massive quantities because after all, anti-piracy outfits can’t take it all down. Also, significant amounts of this content is uploaded by members of private indexes but because Usenet itself is public, anyone can access it. As a result, everyone benefits.
Well, that’s the theory at least.
Due to the takedown situation, things are changing. Tired of having content they upload deleted following DMCA notices, uploaders from private indexes are taking measures to ensure that anti-piracy company bots can’t easily identify specific works. As can be seen by the image below, uploaders are doing this by encrypting the filenames of the content they upload so that only site members know how to decrypt them.
This means that automated anti-piracy systems scanning Usenet using basic text-searching methods can no longer identify the names of specific copyright releases by just looking at the filename. There are hoops to jump through now, adding roadblocks in the way of simply skimming thousands of newsgroups and issuing thousands of takedowns.
While that might sound like a fun way to annoy an anti-piracy company, it is also a great way to ensure that content on the public Usenet is rendered unfindable by regular methods such as using a newsgroup search engine. This means that content that was once uploaded for the entertainment of anyone is now only of use to people who know how to unencrypt the filenames.
Sure, there are some ways around it. Content can still be downloaded without knowing what it is in the hope that when it completes it will turn out to be what you wanted all along, but that’s hardly a good solution. Some people recommend peering inside a release’s PAR2 or NFO files for clues of the actual release name, but that’s far from ideal too.
Therefore, for some Usenet fans the only workable solution towards a decent experience is to start joining up to some of the many NZB sites around today, but even that can prove an annoyance. Many are closed to new members and a rising number of those that are open expect people to pay for their services, raising the question of whether releases are encrypted (or indeed passworded as they have been for years) for security reasons or simply to raise revenue.
The end result is that Usenet is experiencing an upsurge in DRM-like mechanisms which limit access to content, at the same time as thwarting the anti-piracy companies attempting to do the same with their takedowns.
It’s a strange situation that is clearly frustrating users who choose not to be part of private communities. So what are they doing in response? Going back to the sites listed in the second paragraph of this article of course, something which pleases many Usenet elitists who never wanted their community to become as open as it is today.