First of all, is not the same as Usenet, the decentralized system of message boards no one owns or controls. Instead, acts as a front end, archiving Usenet posts and selling access to customers for just under $20 a month.

Here’s how it worked. Although most Internet service providers also give their customers access to Usenet, rarely do the same providers archive Usenet posts. Plus, many providers pick and choose which Usenet groups they’ll allow access to.

While many of those groups only contain text messages on various subjects, a large section of Usenet is devoted to binary postings of music, video, photos and software that often are infringement cases themselves just waiting to happen.

However, many Internet providers give their customers only limited access to Usenet groups. Because most providers don’t bother archiving Usenet postings, a Britney Spears song today may not be there tomorrow.

Plus, many providers have download limits when it comes to Usenet which are so low that downloading even a single large media file would max out a user’s monthly allowance.

But was different. By selling Usenet access, archived postings so that a Metallica track someone posted last month, or even last year, was still available for downloading today. Plus, Usenet actively promoted itself as a portal to copyrighted music.

The RIAA filed an infringement lawsuit against in 2007. Earlier this week U.S. District Judge Harold Baer ruled in favor of the organization. Furthermore, the judge also nixed’s “Betamax” defense – the landmark U.S. Supreme Court 1984 decision in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios – that ruled makers of home video recorders were not liable for copyright infringement, and that viewers had a right to record TV programs for later viewing.

According to CNET, Baer said’s position wasn’t the same as Betamax-maker Sony because Sony’s relationship with the customer ended with the purchase of the VCR, and the company was not responsible for whatever the customer did with the video recorder after the purchase.

However,’s relationship with its customers is ongoing. Customers pay monthly for the service, and because acts as a gateway to Usenet, the company does have some control over what its customers may download.

The judge also noted several instances of misconduct by, including destroying or failing to produce evidence. According to CNET, also prevented employees from giving depositions by sending them to Europe.

Although the court found guilty of facilitating infringements, it did not rule on how the company should be punished. Instead, any disciplinary action has been left up to a court magistrate, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Predictably, the RIAA was happy with the outcome. The organization posted a short message on its Web site essentially saying the verdict should be taken as a warning by anyone trying to build a business based on copyright infringing activity.

“This decision is another example of courts recognizing the value of copyrighted music and taking action against companies and individuals who are engaging in wide scale infringement. We hope that other bad actors who are engaging in similar activity will take note of this decisive opinion.”

Click here for the CNET article.

Click here for the Wall Street Journal article (subscription may be required).