Piracy Keyword Filters for Usenet Don’t Work, Expert Says

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This week Hollywood-backed anti-piracy group BREIN reiterated its demands for a keyword-powered piracy filter to disable access to copyright infringing material on Usenet. However, according to one of the copyright enforcement experts at IP-Arrow, these keyword filters are very costly and not effective at all.

usenetHollywood-backed anti-piracy group BREIN and Usenet provider News-Service.com have been battling in court for several years already.

BREIN is looking for a ruling that makes keyword filters mandatory on Usenet, but the now defunct Usenet provider argues that this is not feasible.

A final decision in the case was delayed again this week. Before it reaches a conclusion, the Dutch court wants both sides to answer detailed questions about the efficacy and costs associated with such a filtering mechanism.

Both parties are allowed to present their own experts to testify on the matter. This could prove to be very interesting, as the Usenet provider is already receiving support from an unexpected quarter.

IP-Arrow, a copyright enforcement company that works with many rightsholders, has just published an opinion article arguing against keyword filters.

The company admits that their stance may not be a popular opinion in the industry, but as one of the outfits that specializes in Usenet, they strongly believe that keyword filters are costly and ineffective.

To understand the situation people have to understand the difference between the Usenet servers and the sites that act as indexers. On the indexing sites people search for NZB files that link to movies and music. However, the actual file-names on the Usenet servers are often quite cryptic.

While these filters may work on Usenet indexing sites, the files on the Usenet servers are often named differently and are therefore harder to filter. Instead of “JoesMovie.avi,” the file would be named “klj37jkhf812jkj11klh66690-132.avi” for example, or any other non-descriptive name.

“When we look at an indexing site for filtering, it makes sense because a user is actually looking or seeing “JoesMovie” in a list,” IP-Arrow’s Joe explains. “They are not looking for “klj37jkhf812jkj11klh66690-132” nor do they care what the actual filename is.

“They grab an NZB or torrent file and start downloading,” he adds.

As a result, using automated filters to remove content from Usenet servers is much harder than it looks. According to IP-Arrow these type of filters will therefore fail to deliver.

In theory it might be possible to arrive at a more effective solution, but that would certainly not be automated. Instead, it would require a rather expensive operation comprising of people who continuously scour Usenet for pirated content.

“This would require a massive database that would need to be updated hourly by live people for all the variations of titles. To do any filter on this scale would by an extremely expensive project on a level that we have not seen,” Joe notes.

As one of the most prominent Usenet takedown service providers, IP-Arrow of course has a stake in taking this position. That said, the company does have quite a bit of Usenet expertise on board.

The article cited above is written by Joe Morganelli, who himself operated the Usenet indexer Binnews several years ago.

Morganelli and his site were eventually targeted by the MPAA in 2006. A year later he agreed to a consent judgment which included several million dollars in damages, after he ‘switched sides’ and started a content protection outfit.

If News-Service.com continues their case against BREIN it looks like they might have found an excellent expert witness to argue their case…


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