Usenet Shake-up Could Strengthen Usenet Industry

Usenet, the original piracy hotbed, is in the midst of a shake-up after New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo persuaded Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Sprint to ban child porn by cutting down on their Usenet offerings. But the medium is far from dead. In fact, the shake-up could lead to users downloading even more media files even faster.

Commercial Usenet access providers have been offering discounts to Usenet refugees from Time Warner and other ISPs in the hopes of getting them to switch. Giganews Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Vogelpohl told NewTeeVee that his company had “a great response” to its Time Warner special, and that Giganews is “thankful for the opportunity” provided by the ISPs’ Usenet shake-up.

The file-sharing web site reported earlier this week that at least five commercial Usenet access providers are offering discounts to Time Warner, Verizon and Sprint customers in search of a new downloading fix. It’s unclear at this point how many customers have actually made use of these offerings, but the transition from ISP-based Usenet to commercial Usenet access providers isn’t just about numbers — it’s also about the type of service users are getting from these companies, and the way this will shape their media downloading behavior.

Many ISPs have put technical limits on their Usenet offerings to manage bandwidth and costs. ISPs that outsource Usenet access to third-party companies oftentimes limit the number of connections a user can access simultaneously, in turn slowing down the user’s downloads, because Usenet access providers charge their wholesale customers by the number of ports used. Other ISPs restrict their customers with a monthly Usenet bandwidth limit. Commercial Usenet providers, on the other hand, offer “unlimited” packages with as many as 20 simultaneous connections so that users are able to download videos and other types of media much faster.

So how does the Usenet industry deal with child porn, the primary driver behind the current backlash? Vogelpohl offered some numbers to explain Giganews’ perspective. His company offers access to 3.7 billion Usenet postings in 10,000 110,000 newsgroups, ranging from discussions to pictures, audio and video content. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office found 11,390 child-pornographic images in 88 newsgroups. “0.0003 percent of the 3.7 billion articles contained (child porn),” said Vogelpohl, adding that Giganews had already blocked access to almost half of these newsgroups before the Attorney General’s inquiry. Said Vogelpohl: “These real-world statistics help illustrate how extremely little (child porn) is available on Giganews servers and on Usenet in general.”

Vogelpohl believes the same is true for infringing content. He quotes the 81,000 takedown notices for content in 72 music newsgroups his company received from the big record labels in the first half of 2007 to prove his point. “81,000 may sound like a large number, but not when you look at the total number of articles in these 72 newsgroups,” he said, which he claims total 70,900,000.

This would mean that less than 0.1 percent of all postings in the music newsgroups targeted by the major record labels triggered takedown notices. Vogelpohl cites this as proof that the rest of the content in these newsgroups is “free of music copyrighted by members of the RIAA,” which might be a little bit of a stretch. It’s more likely that the record labels only target current releases and multiplatinum titles and that the majority of their catalog just slips through the cracks.

Giganews wasn’t able to provide similar statistics for video takedowns, according to Vogelpohl, but one thing is clear: Rights holders shouldn’t get their hopes up about the current Usenet shake-up. Usenet isn’t dying, it’s professionalizing — and overly broad enforcement will just drive more users into the arms of access providers with fat pipes and billions of files to download.


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