The Recording Industry Association of America – RIAA to its friends and enemies – has sealed a major win in the US Federal Court against Usenet access provider Usenet.com, and proven that it understands that not all pirates use BitTorrent.

In a brief note on the RIAA website, the pro-copyright group's executive vice president Steven Marks explains that the ruling against Usenet.com 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.”

The case, which was brought before US District Judge Harold Baer, accused Usenet.com – a site which provides access to the Usenet newsgroups, including those under the 'alt.binaries' hierarchy from which pirated works are made available – of direct, contributory, and vicarious infringement of copyrights. Each of the points was upheld by Judge Baer.

As its defence, Usenet.com used the famous Betamax case ruling. That case, which was brought against Sony by Universal Studios, accused the defendant of facilitating copyright infringement by selling Betamax video recorders. The case was rejected on two counts: one, that Sony's influence over the use of the device ended once the product had been purchased; and second, that there were significant non-infringing uses for a Betamax recorder – proving that it was not developed solely as a means to infringe copyright.

The Betamax case forms a cornerstone of almost all defences against accusations that a company is producing devices which facilitate copyright infringement – from MP3 players to DVD writers. Sadly for Usenet.com, the Judge decided that ruling did not apply.

According to CNet, the Judge pointed out a major difference between the two cases which meant that the Betamax ruling should not be taken into consideration: while Sony's influence over the device ended as soon as it was purchased, Usenet.com enjoyed an ongoing relationship with its members – members who paid a monthly fee to access the Usenet hierarchies it provides.

Because Usenet.com had this ongoing relationship – and thus could, had it so chosen, have prevented its users from accessing possibly infringing works – and because of evidence that the company had tampered with evidence and failed to produce required witnesses, Judge Bayer rejected Usenet.com's defence and found it guilty of all charges.

The win is important for the RIAA on two counts: not only does it open the door for the group to target other providers of high-bandwidth Usenet access, but it also makes it far more difficult for providers of P2P or file hosting services to use the Betamax case as a defence in future.

Thus far, Usenet.com has not commented on the ruling - and its website still allows users to sign up to "unrestricted anonymous access," and encourages users to use the "Ultraleecher" file downloading software.

Do you believe that the RIAA needs to leave companies like Usenet.com alone, or are the premium Usenet providers sailing a little close to the wind by charging for access to the alt.binaries hierarchy? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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