The popularity of Usenet – sometimes known as the newsgroups – has been on the wane for some years now.
Nevertheless, the worldwide system is still home to astonishing quantities of pirated media, including movies, TV shows, music, games and software.
In November 2017, following an investigation by local anti-piracy group GVU, authorities in Germany revealed that they hadn’t taken their eyes off this significant avenue of pirate supply.
Sharing sites Town.ag and Usenet-Town were said to be at the center of the Usenet scene in the region, together facilitating access to well over a million copyright-infringing works. However, following raids in Germany, Spain, Netherlands, San Marino, Switzerland and Canada – carried out by a reported 182 officers from various agencies – the sites were shuttered.
One of the key men behind Town.ag, who was arrested in Spain and extradited to Germany, has already been in custody for almost 18 months. He and another suspect went on trial in Dresden last month. According to GVU, 16 trial days were set aside, in part due to the “persistent silence” of one of the men.
GVU announced this week that the pair have now been convicted, with the alleged head of Town.ag (Gerrit G) sentenced to three years and eight months in prison and the site’s technical administrator (Matthias E) receiving a prison sentence of one year and 10 months.
“[Gerrit G) had the idea for Town.ag, which he implemented himself and with the help of other accomplices,” GVU said in a statement.
“One of these accomplices was also in the dock in Dresden: Matthias E. was responsible for the technical side of the lucrative portal operation and carried out, for example, the server maintenance, but also provided copyrighted material on Town.ag.”
GVU says it has been closely monitoring the local Usenet scene since 2015, noting that around 4.5 million visitors per month flocked to various portal sites in search of movies, TV shows, games, and eBooks. Interestingly, it also claims that two dedicated Usenet providers helped to fund the “criminal network” with sponsorship deals.
The anti-piracy group says the massive raids in 2017 shook up the Usenet scene, with 20 Usenet portals shutting up shop in response. According to GVU, the effect was long-term, with all of the portals remaining offline today. Meanwhile, GVU says that its investigations will continue as criminal proceedings are ongoing.