THE NETHERLANDS—Chalk one up for the anti-piracy brigade. Following a court order issued late last week by the District Court of Amsterdam rejecting a request from Europe’s largest Usenet provider, News-Service.com, to allow them to continue with business as usual during an appeal of the court’s earlier verdict ordering the service to “cease recording and offering material protected by copyright and neighboring rights on pain of period penalty payment,” the company has ceased operations.
The court battle pitted News-Service against BREIN, a Dutch anti-piracy group that demanded the court force the Usenet provider to delete all infringing content from its servers, an all-but-impossible task that essentially forces a service under such an order to close up shop. According to TorrentFreak.com, BREIN has used the courts to “pull hundreds of (small) torrent sites offline in the Netherlands.”
News-Service.com is perhaps BREIN’s latest score to date, though, and TorrentFreak theorized whether the group will use this seminal win to convince other Usenet providers that resistance is finally all but futile. It is perhaps to mitigate against that result that the operators of News-Service, Patrick Schreurs and Wierd Bonthuis, said in their Nov. 4 post to the site that, despite their decision to cease operations immediately, “For reasons of principle, News-Service.com will not accept the verdict and has lodged an appeal.”
According to TorrentFreak, “The verdict of the Amsterdam Court is very similar to the one that decimated BitTorrent site Mininova two years ago. It requires NSE to finding a way to identify and delete all copyrighted files from its servers, which is practically impossible.
“Aside from threatening many other Usenet providers,” the article continued, “a similar judgment would also mean the end of file-hosting sites such as Megaupload, and other cloud storage services including Dropbox. All these services remove copyrighted files when they are asked to, but policing their own servers proactively may prove to be impossible.”
Needless to say, the prospect of such services no longer being in business is music to the ears of BREIN director Tim Kuik, who referred to the court verdict as “a breakthrough step to further dismantle the availability of illegal content on Usenet.”
The determined campaign by BREIN to use the courts to both take down and intimidate such services—which everyone agrees harbor a vast amount of copyrighted content acquired without permission or payment—highlights the slow but steady success of court-focused strategies being honed and perfected by anti-piracy groups.
In the United States, both houses of Congress have put forth pieces of legislation that target the exact same sorts of services, but in addition to the slower, more certain tactics utilizing the oversight of the courts, the U.S. government, prodded by powerful media and entertainment industry lobbies, is also entertaining direct “market-based” solutions that essentially gut the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by allowing individual copyright holders the fast-track ability to take sites they contend harbor stolen content offline through direct demands to ISPs, or by prohibiting advertising services, billing companies and search engines from providing services to them or linking to them, before a court has ever becomes involved.
Critics of the bills before Congress argue that such tactics could, among other problems, lead to a less stable internet, but it could be that the success of court battles such as this one—which seem to be actually gaining traction against piracy rather than just playing the old “whack a mole” game—provide a more direct example of the best way forward in the ongoing and escalating battle against out-of-control global digital piracy.
While similar court wins (i.e. the 2009 victory by the Recording Industry Association of America against Usenet.com) have occurred in the States, it remains to be seen whether the copyright protection-oriented regions of the world will become more (or less) strategically coordinated as attempts to rein in "rogue" websites around the world gains steam.