Why Downloading From Usenet Is Legal

Content of this article:

1. General information about the Usenet
2. Why Do People Use Usenet
3. Downloading From Usenet Legal Or Not?
4. The Fact Of Legality Of Usenet Files


Usenet is a worldwide distribution system where users have a variety of content which are posted to multiple remote servers. When somebody posts in one Usenet group, all the servers that have the Usenet software installed on it automatically make a copy. This means that it’s almost impossible to destroy Usenet. Unlike the web infrastructure, where a website is physically located on one server. Usenet’ messages are distributed throughout this server cluster.

Accessing information on Usenet works the same way as accessing materials on the World Wide Web. Even if certain parts of the network are down you can still access the information. What makes Usenet different is the fact that when a website’s server is down, you can access the website’s content. With Usenet, even if the other servers containing the Usenet software are taken down, there’s still copies all over the place. Usenet actually pre-existed the World Wide Web. Before the words “web page” and “websites”, Usenet already existed. The United States Department of Defense developed the bedrock technology for the internet. This is called TCP/IP technology. Usenet uses this protocol to send information.

However, in of itself is a technology that involves serving and storing information. It uses a different architecture than the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web is dependent on domain names and these domain names in return are assigned to a particular server. This server or cluster that contains the data for the website behind that they’ve shown when people click on the domain name. Still, both of these technologies use the technology of TCP/IP.

TCP/IP stands for Transmission control protocol and the internet protocol. These were the first networking protocols that make the internet work. All technologies, whether we’re talking about email, World Wide Web, http technology and the Usenet use the TCP/IP protocol.

Given its special history, a lot of the internet’s initial users actually use the Usenet to share information. Even when the World Wide Web was invented in the late 80s and became commercially popular in the mid 90s, Usenet still had a very powerful following. In fact, if you were looking for pictures or software, Usenet was the more reliable source back in those days before Google. It’s easy to see why because at this age of the internet’s development, it was fairly hard to find information.

First of all, people weren’t publishing information in the mass like nowadays. If you were looking for information, there are still not enough pages on the internet. Even if they were specialized pages it was very hard access to them because a lot of search engines back in those times did not work properly. They were very easy to cheat. In many cases if you were looking for the most innocuous stuff like chocolate chip cookie recipes, you’ll end up in a porn site. That’s how bad search engines were back then.

Well, thanks to google that it’s ever evolving search technology, we pretty much kissed those days goodbye. As a result more and more people use the World Wide Web instead of the Usenet. It’s still heavily used, but compared to the World Wide Web and its mobile extension, its usage is overshadowed.

Why Do People Use Usenet

Usenet provides a fast and secure way of downloading files. It runs through a binary group and you get content in a stripped down form. There’s no fancy formatting and no multimedia elements that attend to viewing a web page. If you’re just looking for a text information or files, you can find it on Usenet.

Usenet uses binary and NZB files which are distributed in many chunks through the Usenet network. This is why it’s very hard to shut down Usenet. Believe me, a lot of people have thought about doing this for a variety of reasons. A lot of it has to do with controlling content, but they face a tremendous amount technical challenge. The way Usenet is setup is that it runs laps around BitTorrent and other file sharing technologies. Its packages can be spread out throughout many different servers or even if you just to shut down some servers, they would still get an information.

BitTorrent and Usenet are somewhat similar because BitTorrent uses seeder files that establish where to find files and what to look for. Similarly, in Usenet, the NZB file provides leads to the parts of the file you want to download from Usenet. These are packages that contain references that enable you to download content. Bittorrent and Usenet operate similarly as far as finding content is concerned. Where they diverge is that BitTorrent uses the computers of individual users. People download BitTorrent, they eventually turn their computers into servers, both for downloading and uploading files. People can find files using the seed file. This seed file will then access the whole peer-to-peer network. Not so with Usenet. It uses dedicated servers. They are all over the place, mostly private, but are interconnected to each other using the Usenet software.

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Downloading From Usenet Legal Or Not?

There is a misconception regarding the legality of downloading the materials on Usenet. A lot of people think that legality turns on what kind of technology platform you use. Like if you’re using BitTorrent to download files, you’re somewhat engaged in something illegal. While this is the case for most people, this doesn’t apply across the board. What if you’re using BitTorrent to access files placed on the global peer-to-peer torrent network by artists who just want to spread the word about their latest album. They give people from all over the world free access to their music. You can download their music, play it or even create new content with it or use it as a background music for your next YouTube video, name it.

The only thing you can’t do is to claim that it is your property. You also cannot sell it. You can’t sell the rights to it because you only have the right to use or make derivative works. In those cases, that content is absolutely free, you can download it. It’s absolutely legal. The same applies to independent movies where the creator gives rights to the general public to access, use download and share their work. The same restrictions probably apply. You can’t claim to people that you created that content and you own the rights to that content. But other than that, everything goes. In those contexts, downloading from Usenet or BitTorrents or wherever else is absolutely legal.

This positive factor is the fact that the creator or creators gave rights to the public. The same applies to public domain content. Depending on the jurisdiction where the content was created, if the creator died a long time ago and it’s past the copyright period, that material is absolutely free. Knock yourself out. Downloading, sharing, putting your watermark on it, creating derivative contents, you can even make a compilation and add some commentary and claim it as your own. You can do that. You can even protect it by copyright for materials that include public domain parts. Keep in mind that you don’t own the public domain parts that you are protected for what you did to create new content. Your protection all arises from your derivative work. In that case, if you are sharing that material on Usenet, Torrents and wherever else, people are afraid to use it.

I hope you can see that the broad pattern is not necessarily the technology used to access content. The legality of the content stems from the actual rights attached to the content. It’s only when the content is freely shared by the creator or if the creator gives rights to the public or if it’s a public domain. However, if the content that you’re downloading from a Torrents, websites, Usenet or wherever else is still under somebody else’s copyrights and they did not give you an expressed license to download, use or share or make derivative works on their material, you’re engaged in copyright infringement. Not only you may be liable for civil penalties, but you could also face criminal penalties.

This is serious business and you have to make a claim the you just downloaded it from Usenet and that it’s absolutely free. Just because a copyrighted work gets out on a particular platform, it doesn’t use its legal protection. Keep that in mind that just because people Usenet to download all sorts of files that doesn’t mean that the copyright owner waived their rights. This is the law. It all boils down to whether the copyright owner or the legal owners of the rights to that creative work retain the copyright or have given certain rights to the public. Be clear about that. Don’t get so caught up on the platform that you run the risk of being sued. With that said, there is such a thing as “The fact of legality”.

The Fact Of Legality Of Usenet Files

Since it’s very hard to trace downloads from Usenet, it can be argued that on the practical level that downloading materials from Usenet is legal. Regardless of the base legal rights given or reserved in a particular piece of content, some people should still consider how they access that content. Again, if we are just talking about absolute legality, it’s illegal to download copyrighted materials off Usenet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using Usenet, or a BitTorent network or a website interface. You may be using the deep web for that matter. It doesn’t matter.

From an absolute perspective, that is still an illegal act. It’s not legal to download copyrighted material. With that said from a practical perspective, it doesn’t really matter because there are tools that Usenet downloaders use to maintain their privacy. There are many Usenet groups that use certain download tools and use certain privacy processes that make it almost impossible to trace people downloading materials from Usenet.

Does this mean that downloading protected materials from Usenet is completely risk free? Absolutely not. There is one basic rule on the internet. When somebody wants to get you whether it is an individual or a hacking group or worst yet a governmental body, they can get you. It doesn’t matter how elaborate your privacy protection systems are. In many cases, they’re just waiting on you to make a slip on a suspicious link or install spyware on your computer and you’re tossed. But like I said, in terms of practicality, downloading from Usenet is legally safe for many people due to the privacy protections and processes that they follow. They also gain a huge amount of protection from just the way Usenet is set up and distributed all over the world.

With that said, I have to tell you that the legality of the materials from a purely legal perspective, downloading protected materials from Usenet is still illegal unless you got an expressed right from the creator. But in practical perspective or “the fact of legality”, it’s going to be very hard. For rights owners to crack down on illegal file downloaders because of the hurdles involved.

Also, there’s a return on effort and return on investment factor to consider. If they’re going to run after all these citizens downloading one song from the internet, they probably would have to spend thousands of dollars to hire lawyers and get people to show up. In many cases, it’s like trying to kill ants with a blowtorch. It’s an overkill. Also, you only need to look at what happen to companies like NAPSTER? Big multibillion dollar recording media companies started cracking down on illegal file sharers. What do you think happened? That’s happened? That’s right, a media nightmare.

All these big companies got a black eye in the media as well as in public opinion because here they were, massive multimillion dollar companies running after kids, teenagers, college students or people barely getting by on minimum age for downloading a song. If not surprisingly, you’d no longer hear about such David and Goliath legal stories because media companies resign themselves to the fact that a certain percentage of their content will be downloaded. Does this excuse illegal downloads of protected materials? Absolutely not. I just want you to wrap your minds around the practical aspects of downloading materials from Usenet.

Again, its not the technology platform. It’s not the specific platform technology that can make or unmake the legality of a protected work. It’s the nature of the work itself. It’s always a good idea that if you’re concerned using Usenet on a purely 100% legal basis, stick to the public domains and Creative Comments work made available by the creators themselves.