Gigs & Bytes: Yabba Guba Doo!
Chances are, when the headline screams “Copyright Infringement!” the story is about file swapping and P2Ps. But there exists on the Internet a vehicle where you can find anything you’re looking for. No matter if it’s the latest movie bootleg or the latest episode of “Lost,” it’s there for the taking. That is, as long as you know where to look.
It’s called Usenet. And although Usenet has been around since 1979, it’s pretty much been overlooked since commercial use of the Internet and the emergence of the World Wide Web changed the way people communicate.
Simply put, Usenet is a collection of forums, called newsgroups, where people can post and view messages as well as post and download multimedia content such as video, music and software. These Usenet newsgroups are hosted by individual Internet service providers, which determine which groups will be made available to their customers. For example, some ISPs may carry every newsgroup while others offer a limited number for their users.
However, there’s no centralized location for Usenet. Instead, when a Usenet user posts a message to a discussion group, that message first goes to the discussion group carried by his Internet service provider. After the original posting, the message is copied to the same newsgroup hosted by other ISPs. For example, an original posting to the newsgroup “alt.music” would eventually wind up at every ISP hosting the alt.music newsgroup.
Or, for that matter, if somebody posts a copyrighted song or video to a newsgroup that is part of what are commonly referred to as “binary newsgroups,” copies of the original post will eventually show up at all ISPs hosting that particular newsgroup.
So far, major content owners such as record labels and movie studios have pretty much ignored the copyright infringing activities that occur via newsgroups, if only because the lack of a centralized controlling force pretty much precludes anyone taking responsibility for what happens in the wild frontier that is Usenet. Any legal action regarding Usenet postings has always been directed toward the original poster, and not the ISPs hosting Usenet newsgroups.
But a search engine making it easier to search Usenet might make the entertainment industry take another look at newsgroups.
Guba is a subscription-only, $14.95 per month search engine that makes searching Usenet as easy as searching a P2P network. Guba touts its service as “the premier multimedia search and download site,” for comedy, science fiction, reality TV and cartoons.
Oh, yeah, and porn.
In fact, if you’ve read anything about Guba in the past few days it was probably a news story centered around Guba’s ease of use when it comes to searching for porn on Usenet. But, while the porn is out there, so are copyrighted movies, TV shows and other videos. And Guba will help you find them.
Guba isn’t the first company to try to make a buck or two from Usenet. Several software companies sell newsreader programs for browsing Usenet newsgroups. There are also companies that, for a charge, offer better and more complete access than some ISPs may provide for their customers. There was also at one time a service called Deja News, which archived all non-binary Usenet postings. Google acquired Deja in 2001, and you can search past Usenet messages by clicking on the “Groups” tab on the Google home page.
But while the mainstream media focuses on the vast amount of porn that Guba can root out on Usenet, the fact that Guba enables users to find copyrighted video files is sure to catch Hollywood’s attention. What’s more, Guba converts those video files to the same format Apple uses for its new video iPod, making one wonder why people would spend a couple of bucks buying the latest episode of “Desperate Housewives” from iTunes when Guba makes it extremely easy to download the same program from Usenet for free, as well as almost every popular program on TV today.
According to Reuters, Guba abides by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires ISPs to remove any copyrighted material once notified by the copyright holders. Guba also practices a form of self-regulation by blocking access to music files and videos running over 70 minutes in length.
So far the entertainment industry has focused much of its online piracy battle on P2Ps, and the amount of copyrighted material circulating on Usenet has pretty much gone unnoticed. That is, until now.