Ask LH: Am I Safe From Being Busted For Piracy If I Download With Usenet?

Ask LH: Am I Safe From Being Busted For Piracy If I Download With Usenet?

Hey Lifehacker, after all the buzz about Dallas Buyers Club and the related court decision it would seem to me that the infringement would be for distributing copies. If this is the case would Usenet users be somewhat in the clear since it’s purely downloads? Thanks, No Seeding

Title image remixed from Leremy (Shutterstock).

Dear NS,

First point: I’m not a lawyer, and nor are you. So none of this should be construed as advice that you will be “in the clear” if you’re downloading copyrighted content under any circumstances.

Secondly: we’re still a long way from any kind of resolution in the Dallas Buyers Club case, so it’s really pointless to draw any firm conclusions on that score.

Thirdly: it’s certainly true that many copyright cases concerning online piracy have concentrated on people distributing the copies, rather than just downloading them. This comes down to basic economics. If you can demonstrate that someone has accessed a single illegal copy of a movie, the economic extent of the damage is likely to be limited to the cost of buying that movie. It’s not worth paying an expensive lawyer to claim $20 from someone. But if you can demonstrate that someone shared a copy that was in turn downloaded thousands of times, the potential damages are much higher (and the lawyer may be a worthwhile investment).

That doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly legal to download from Usenet — it just means that the effort of tracing someone who has done so might not be worthwhile. Since Usenet activity is much more difficult to detect, even the introduction of a three strikes policy might not result in you being prosecuted.

Again, though, you’re still breaking the law if you’re downloading copyrighted material. Whether you’re comfortable with as a matter of ethics is ultimately your decision.


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  • Bit torrent by its nature is sharing and open for others to see what you have when you seed, whereas Usenet can be set up on a encrypted connection when you grab the data direct then stop. Being encrypted it can be intercepted but results in garbage. There again, if they notice you downloading terabytes of TLS streams from known usenet servers its pretty likely they know what your up to. either way usenet would be safer.

  • What about if my mate gets a movie from BitTorrent, and then I just borrow it from him?

  • “You wouldn’t steal a car…”

    I’d download a car if I could though!

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