The joke was that Usenet is a decentralized messaging system. Nobody actually owns it.

In most cases Usenet system needs are handled by individual Internet service providers. Providers determine which news groups they’ll carry, how much content they’ll include from those groups, and how long that content stays on their own servers before being deleted to make room for fresher postings.

But Usenet is more than just text postings. The alt.binary class of news groups consists of non-text postings, mostly songs, movies, TV shows and software. And most of those postings infringe on someone’s copyright.

And guess what? The RIAA recently filed a lawsuit against Usenet.com

Okay, Usenet.com isn’t Usenet. It’s simply a Usenet provider. But, like many commercial Usenet providers, Usenet.com maintains a vast Usenet archive and charges a subscription fee to those wanting to access that archive.

The RIAA’s lawsuit claims Usenet newsgroups contain “millions of copyrighted sound recordings.” They’re probably right, though no one has actually counted them all.

And Usenet.com isn’t exactly unaware of what is available. The RIAA lawsuit quotes Usenet.com’s own words, that “Today’s hottest way of sharing MP3 files over the Internet is Usenet.”

Suing a provider like Usenet.com is either a fool’s errand or a brilliant legal move. Sure, the organization might be able to stop Usenet.com from providing customers access to all the copyrighted material available on Usenet, but Usenet.com is only one Usenet provider. AT&T, Comcast and many colleges and universities also provide Usenet access to their customers.

On the other hand, if victorious the RIAA’s legal action against Usenet.com could bully other Usenet providers into dropping Usenet newsgroups containing copyrighted material. And that would definitely be chalked up as a win in the organization’s play book.