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Tragic Irony: The Lost Opportunity In Blocking Newzbin

Gordon Kelly



"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Voltaire's famous quote attacking censorship is well known, but would you believe it was once preached by the RIAA? "The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing," it argued. "They believed in the power of ideas and debate, not censorship… In the world of music, the censorship effort repeats itself virtually every generation. Music is an especially easy target when legislators are looking for cultural scapegoats. In the tempest of the times, it’s easy to condemn that which shocks."

These extracts come from an article published on the RIAA's website in 2002. Unsurprisingly it has since been deleted, but The Wayback Machine keeps a copy which gives remarkable and damning insight into how the attitude of copyright holders has since changed.


This week the u-turn was complete. Under pressure from the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the RIAA's Hollywood cousin, the English High Court ruled British Telecom must block access to Newzbin 2 – a pre-eminent Usenet aggregation site. It was achieved under section 97A of the Copyright Act and in doing so swept away key safeguards. It ruled ISPs are not actually 'service providers', that unlike Royal Mail they are not merely a conduit and they have a duty to monitor users surfing to enforce censorship where appropriate.

"[BT] knows that the users of Newzbin 2 include BT subscribers, and it knows those users use its service to receive infringing copies of copyright works made available to them by Newzbin 2," concluded Mr Justice Arnold. BT accepted the verdict and the MPAA is expected to use the landmark decision to now pressure smaller ISPs and draw up a long list of sites. Presumably that would include Newzbin 3 (v3.newzbin.com), which has been in service for well over a year.


"Almost every ‘infringing’ search result found on Newzbin2 can be had from Google, we just do it much much better," said Newzbin in a blog post which claims it was not invited to attend the case. It also promised to break any blocking technology BT imposed. "[Copyright holders] regard anything new as a threat, when it always eventually turns out to be their greatest and most profitable opportunity: the VCR, DVD, CD, cassette tape, pianola-roll, Caxton printing press etc." Its argument has unnerving similarities to the now deleted proclamations of the RIAA.

The ruling has ignited furious debate on age old arguments: theft verses infringement, indexing verses hosting and censorship verses freedom of information. More tragically, however, both sides are missing a fundamentally important point: Newzbin reaffirms the future of the entertainment industry…

Carl Abudephane

July 30, 2011, 6:43 pm

Well, it's all been said hasn't it. Your succinct little piece here nicely sums it up. In total I pay various 'services' close to £30/month to download as I please and I do so not to save myself the pain of paying for music when I would rather 'steal' it, but because it is a brilliant way of finding out about stuff I would never otherwise get to hear.
I can only of course speak for myself, but apparently multiple studies seem to indicate that there are many out there like me - that download 'illegally' and then, shock horror, go out and buy(yes, BUY)the albums that I love. I miss the packaging, I want to rip losslessly and I don't mind paying for something when I know it's worth shelling out for.
I don't really care anymore about getting into this argument, or feeling as though I should(because I don't)justify what I do however. I just detest these large organisations who utterly refuse to bend in any way whatsoever when it comes to changing their modes of operating, and the ignorant individuals you quote above. You've stated what is attractive to downloaders and the fact that they are prepared to pay; what else?
Well, I'll carry on paying and I'll turn my attention to movies too.
So, after fleecing people on blu-rays, what format will they deliver next to allow them to still further increase their prices?
They just don't get it.
Well, I do, and I am.

Sam Wright

July 31, 2011, 4:06 am

I completely agree with you. If I find a film, game or music engaging, I will always buy it. I have streamed films before, but frankly it's clunky, dodgy quality and adds which never shut up. Once these companies learn that quantity of viewers matter as much as cost, maybe they'll learn. I'd buy a lot more if the price was a bit lower, as would a great many people who don't like the hassle of tormenting.
Reduce the price and media companies would find their total revenues expanding. Soft approach guys, you won't beat this with a hammer.


July 31, 2011, 8:05 pm

I'm not sure your logic stacks up here. If all you are using this filesharing site for is music discovery, you could do that with a service such as Spotify, for free. Hell, you could even be a premium user of Spotify and it would still only cost you a third of your quoted £30 per month!


August 2, 2011, 2:25 am

@Bluepork: you could do that with a service such as Spotify

As long as you don't mind using the client, eg. What if I listened to my music using XMBC, or even XBox or PS3. You might be able to get Spotify working with these, but it's not always trivial. And what about portable players that don't have Spotify clients, or MP3 car radios etc. etc. The most portable format is MP3, if you want to be able to listen where & when, then there is no real alternative.


August 2, 2011, 2:32 am

Totally agree, what about Anonymous Proxy's?, anyone who knows the slightest bit about computers, will know about them. Are BT going to block every Proxy too.


August 2, 2011, 7:06 am

Dont use Newzbin, but the industry needs to wake up! Give people digital means to get what they want and pay for it, AND THEY WILL!!
Example, I pay for an Audible sub to get audiobooks in NZ, but the last lot I started (Dresden Files, 12 books total) only 4 are available for me to download?? If I log out of my account I can see them on the site but they wont let me download them in NZ saying its US only! BARKING! So instead I have downloaded them "elsewhere" as there is nowhere else I can find them. I mean, I want to give my money over, but I can't! Crazy!


August 3, 2011, 3:57 am

Great article, and I figured that this might feature on the site. It is remarkable how the media fat cats just don't get it. Poor BT is caught between laughing at this total non-attack on piracy, the crying that should this continue, dedicated pirates (who do pay for online services, rather than this content) will shift to another ISP, even if it's a worse deal.

It's fairly incredible that via pirated means, you get universal access to super-quick, high-quality and on-demand content in a variety of formats/codecs whilst label companies can hardly keep up with uploading YouTube video in 1080p, without endless restrictions on countries in which you can view it in. How am I supposed to be able to pay for their products if they won't let me know what it is?

Frankly, they'd be better off focussing on improving their products. Tragic irony indeed.


August 3, 2011, 4:01 am

Of course, Spotify is not global yet and it hardly provides music at boundary-pushing quality. Not even Amazon provides MP3 downloads at 320kbps. Ludicrous.


August 3, 2011, 5:40 pm

I fully concur with Voltaire's great words even it means having to listen to Fergal Sharkey's, CE of UK Music, nonsense like this:

"Who wants to tell the 80% of music businesses that employ fewer than five people, and the thousands of artists who self-finance the production of their own albums, that to enjoy the protection of the law, all they need now is to have millions of pounds and spend years in court to protect their work."

Firstly, given that new artist post their work freely on websites like U-Tube. More importantly it will ONLY get wide distribution if it is any good. If by illegal downloads it gets popular surely it enhances the credibility of the artist(s) and hence opening opportunities?

For example, wasn't it the unauthorised video clips of Ms Susan Boyle's appearance on Britain's Got Talent 2009 that launched her to the world? Did ITV and other IP rights holders ask for an injunction against U-tube etc?

However, if newzbin is ONLY facilitating alleged illegal activity then surely it is right and proper for the IP right holders to seek an injunction against it?

I ask the question as I do not know the extent of the websites activities. In fact I only came to be aware of it as result of news stories of this legal action against it.

If the ONLY victim is illegality then may it RIP.

Before people start throwing rotten fruit and veg at me I suggest they read my previous posts on this subject matter.

Nevertheless, we should remain ever vigilant if LEGAL activity is threatened by such and ALL means and any parties.

Our FREEDOMS have been won over centuries of blood shedding by OUR fore-bearers and they should not be threatened by anyone. Witness the struggles in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.


August 3, 2011, 7:42 pm

Ah interesting argument I once heard about music was artists shouldn't earn from album sales, but from touring and concerts... performing their work on front of an audience. This causes problems with the likes of Greatest Hits work and isn't the ultimate solution, but it is an interesting perspective.


August 3, 2011, 8:04 pm

"It is a good thing for Voltaire that he is 233 years dead."

It is a good thing too for the media industry, as he would no doubt probably be one of rebels.

However, the industry is NOT missing the point. They understand it all too well that global easy access for the consumer means they can't manipulate the markets. What do you think was the purpose of the Region Coding of DVDs?

Also, note the Authorities anti-trust, anti-competitive etc actions against some very familiar names with fines running into £$billions?

Then there is the example of OPEC!! Do you think the Arab Sheiks would be able to afford their Gold plated camels?

Now compare them with the equally resource rich Africans?

Thus the media industry's attempts to control the industry have little impact on the file sharers as they typically are cash poor. Indeed some years ago I read in the Times that one leading Hollywood studio's Senior Executive admitted his son was downloading stuff!!!

No, the people it really hurts is the people who have money and actually buy and hence support the industry. They need to wake up to the shenanigans and machinations of the media industry.

One good thing already achieved by the protests and all this file sharing palava is that people will be able to LEGALLY transfer their content from one media to another. Thus loosing the media industry money for old rope as they did for cassettes and LPs to CDs or VHS to DVD.


August 4, 2011, 5:25 am

@Gordon394 -- 3:42 PM on 3 August, 2011

Of course that is an option for the IP rights holder(s) to exercise. As we have seen in some instances.

Concert are not the only revenue earner: ads, music in shops, movies, merchandising, endorsement and in recent times deals with Newspapers. Lady Gaga clearly didn't make her reported $100 million fortune ( http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/music/lady-gaga-id-give-away-my-100-million-fortune/story-e6frfn09-1226095367781 ) by the sales of her début album alone!!

However, from reading your article and screen shots Newzbin are NOT paying Royalties to the right holders while making the money from their work for themselves.

Whereas another lot of 'file-sharers' actually share the files without profiteering. While I wouldn't condone it I recognise from the anecdotal evidence that these are in the main kids to young adults, often cash-poor. In effect doing what people have been doing long before all the high tech duplication technology was readily available. So their impact on revenue lost is most likely to be negligible by definition and so not worth the effort pursing them.

Indeed, Eamonn Holmes, This Morning show on Sky News, noted that in the time of his youth there were double cassettes decks for copying and sharing music!

Before that I guess people simply loaned to each other the vinyl LP.

Then there was this story:

"Harvard's Aaron Swartz indicted on MIT hacking charges

"Supporters claim 'digital Robin Hood' has done no more than 'checking too many books out of the library'"

[ http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jul/21/aaron-swartz-indicted-hacking-charges ]

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