The legality of binary newsgroups

Is it illegal to download copyrighted files from binary newsgroups? If it is, are people being prosecuted for that? Also, if some of these binary groups have illegal downloads, why aren’t they being shut down? Sorry for all the dumb questions.

Honestly I’m not entirely sure. Technically anything that’s illegal to download anywhere else is illegal for newsgroups as well, but honestly I’m not sure if they don’t bother with 'em, don’t know about them, or don’t know how to shut them down. The distribution system is troublesome as far as getting shut down and it can be all anonymously posted (to a certain extent).

— Alan

The first rule of … club is, don’t talk about it.

It’s illegal. The only two questions left are the morality, and the risk of getting caught.

It’s not illegal for the ISPs to carry them because of the ISPs’ common carrier status. As I understand it, if they started shutting them down due to their content, they would lose that common carrier status and would then be responsible for every little bit of uncaught copyright violation/child porn/libel/etc. that occurs on the newsgroups, so it’s far less risk for them not to do anything.

It seems like more and more ISPs are dropping newsgroups entirely though, and they could probably drop the binary ones by some other criteria (e.g., unreasonabled network burden) if they really wanted to, but that wouldn’t stop the violations.

Might be responsible.

There’s no body of law on common carrier/“service provider” and the internet yet. Some have won, some have lost. The issue needs an appeal, and needs it to go to the supreme court.

Of course it’s illegal and no, they are not proscecuting end-users. Yet.

I’m curious about this stuff as well. Someone told me that the binary files posted on these groups aren’t illegal because they are broken into pieces. Any given file is useless on its own. If a user downloads them and goes through some sort of assembly process, they can turn them into copyrighted videos or music. The explanation I heard likened it to other illegal activities. EI: selling fertilizer isn’t illegal, but turning it into a bomb is.

If anyone has more information on the specifics of the legalities, I’d be interested in seeing them. Newsgroups have been a sort of gray area for a long time and nothing that I’ve seen has any clear explanations about them.

Is it illegal? Probably; “it’s uuencoded chunks of unrelated textfiles” would get you laughed out of court for a newsgroup called “”, which is what’s under discussion here.

It’s a civil matter, though, not criminal, so you’d have to get sued by the specific copyright holder. Which is really unlikely; tracking USENET is a bitch, unlike some of the P2P applications out there.

I’d say they’re not getting shut down because no one is profiting from them, other than the rather indirect ISP fee path. No rich targets to go after.

Why is it a civil matter?

Unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a specific person at a specific computer at a specific time can be held responsible, it won’t hold up in court.

Civil cases, however, don’t require reasonable doubt, just a preponderance of evidence.

At least, that’s my understanding. I am not a lawyer.

It’s either legal or it’s not.

Come to think of it, I don’t know why it’s civil law. Can anyone explain?

Well I found this:

Apparently, for criminal copyright infringement to exist, civil copyright infringement must be proved first.

Additional info regarding criminal copyright infringement.

Doubt you could be called into court for having some .par2 files laying about.

I’d rather they spend their resources to track down child abuse than spend money and resources on copyright infringement. Although, a happy multinational corporation probably pays a lot better than a 4 year old saved from predators.

Um… Isn’t everything distributed through the Internet broken into tiny little pieces?

Usenet is a distributed network but access is centralized locally. It isn’t peer to peer. If the copyright holders went to, say, easynews and successfully subpeoned their logs, they could trivially associate pirates and pornographers with human beings, as each login is linked to a creditcard. This is different from P2P, where the copyright holders can harvest the pirates’ IP addresses themselves but then have to subpeona for the name. It requires a subpeona with effectively no proof of wrongdoing. Of course easynews, supernews, giganews, etc, all say that they don’t retain usage logs anyway. This is a huge selling point because essentially all of their subscribers are pirates.

And yes, again, obviously it’s illegal. It makes me sad that you people even question it.

Well I think most of the posters here aren’t questioning the legality of this issue (even if they wrote “Illegal? Maybe.”), but rather are putting forth the question on how prosecutable, and hence enforcable, binary newsgroups are.

It doesn’t matter if something is legal or not, if it’s not possible to enforce it.

A few years ago I would have said that usenet was totally safe, protected by the common carrier principal. But in a blatant travesty of justice, they quickly shutdown napster, kazaa, morpheus, various bittorrent sites, etc, none of which actually hosted any pirated material themselves.

Unlike these p2p indexing services, usenet providers actually host illegal material. Easynews has terabytes of pirated software, movies, games, TV shows, and porno on their hard drives, available for download at speeds maxing out your cable modem for $11.95/month. They’re going down. It’s just a matter of time.

Now the question is, will they get me for downloading the spice girls album off usenet? Again, a couple of years ago I would have said “no, they only care about the uploaders”. But times have changed. Unlike the DEA, the MPAA and RIAA don’t pursue the dealers, they attack the junkies, the end-users. Will they get me? They’ll certainly try!

That’s why, to me, it feels safer to get TV shows and such off bittorrent with peerguardian running than to sign up for a service like easynews. Easynews is a very reasonable price and offers much faster more convenient downloads… but the downloads are linked to my name, via my creditcard, and I’m not comfortable with that.

I thought that was pretty sad as well.

I miss the pirates of old, back when they only killed people, razed villages and raped women… the 21th century kind are much much worse.

Furthermore, if it was enforced, who would be most likely to be found liable.