Major Usenet portal loses landmark copyright infringement case

An effort by one of the Internet’s largest Usenet communities to have its operations declared legal in a court of law backfired this week, even though the court admitted that the site is not violating any copyrights or breaking any actual laws.

Dutch Usenet community Fight to Defeat (FTD) took the entertainment industry trade group BREIN to court in 2009 after its director, Tim Kuik, declared FTD to be illegal in an article on the country’s popular news website Volkskrant. In a situation that is quite the opposite of what we usually see, leaders of the 450,000-member community actually initiated the lawsuit against the antipiracy group in an attempt to set the record straight.

The major point of contention between BREIN and FTD was not over blatant copyright infringement, but rather the fact that the discussion-based site existed for members to point out where illegally copied and posted material resided on Usenet. The court was apparently not impressed by FTD’s argument that the site’s activities were not unlawful.

“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 attorney Arnoud Engelfriet reported to TorrentFreak after the verdict was handed down on Wednesday.

In addition, FTD was ordered by the court to remove all “spots”, or posts noting the location of illegally posted files, and will have to fork over 15,000 euros per day, up to a maximum of 300,000 euros ($410,000), to BREIN if they fail to follow through.

“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,” Kuik said. “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.”

You may remember hearing about BREIN recently as they teamed up with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to seize 29 domains in December, plus an additional 12 in January.

This verdict does not bode well for other Usenet communities, however there is still the chance that FTD will appeal the decision. And appeal they should, if TorrentFreak’s assessment of Dutch law is correct.

“Downloading movies, TV shows and music from the Internet for your own personal use is completely legal in Holland. Making copies of original material you own for your own use is also completely legal. Even making copies of pirated material you don’t own is legal, provided it is exclusively for your own use,” the site pointed out in May of 2009 when FTD initiated the case.

If that’s true, than how can simply pointing out the location of a file be deemed an illegal action? The answer to that question is completely beyond me.