London’s High Court of Justice will hear the opening statements in the case of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation & ors v Newzbin Ltd. tomorrow. Invite-only Newzbin is part of the huge and growing Usenet phenomenon, indexing posts made to Usenet and helping to download large collections of files in one swoop.
Hollywood started to target Usenet with a first round of lawsuits against Usenet-indexing sites all the way back in 2006 and was able to shut down a number of sites similar to Newzbin as well as receive at least one judgment for $15 million in damages. However, the recent court victory of a UK torrent site admin could help Newzbin in its defense.
Usenet was long considered an underground phenomenon, but downloading movies and TV shows from Usenet servers has become both fashionable and easy in recent years, thanks in part to indexing sites like Newzbin. Large files posted on Usenet are typically split up in dozens, if not hundreds, of segments. Usenet-indexing sites publish so-called .NZB files, which basically contain an index of all the segments needed to reassemble the original video file.
Sites like Newzbin don’t publish movies themselves, and users still need to obtain a Usenet account from a separate hosting provider to actually start downloading. One could compare a site like Newzbin to a torrent index like The Pirate Bay, even though there are some technical differences.
Those similarities and differences could play a big role in the court case that kicks off tomorrow. Newzbin’s owner has stated in the past that he considers his site to be perfectly legal because it doesn’t actually publish any copyrighted material. His lawyers will probably point to the recent court victory of Allan Ellis, former owner of the now-defunct BitTorrent site Oink, who was found not guilty of conspiracy to defraud the music industry just two weeks ago.
However, there’s an important difference between the two cases: Ellis won a criminal court case, whereas Newzbin has to defend itself in civil proceedings aimed at shutting the site down through an injunction. Hollywood has had more success with these kinds of cases in the past, if only in the U.S. Major studios were able to obtain a permanent injunction against a similar site called Binnews.com in 2007, which included awarded damages worth $15 million.
Hollywood has so far abstained from actually taking a Usenet hosting provider to court. The music industry sued newsgroup hoster Usenet.com in 2007 and won that case last summer. The site has since shut down.