back to article Usenet file-swapping was acceptable in the '80s – but not so much now: Pirate pair sent down for 66 months

Remember Usenet, the 1980s distributed messaging and file-sharing service that predates the web? Turns out the old-school network is still popular in some parts of mainland Europe as a method of file exchange, and thus remains a pain in the ass for copyright holders. This week a court in Dresden, Germany, sentenced two men to …

  1. Geoff May (no relation)

    Remember Usenet? I still use it!

    And not for exchanging files. There are simpler ways. It is useful for keeping track of people I have known for years and still have the same interests as I have.

    1. K

      Upvote for being so retro, your vogue.. and a beer for you name!

    2. flokie

      Unfortunately most ISPs dropped Usenet at some point in the 00s. I think I kept subscribing through Claranet for a few years after my ISP did so. I'm not that old: only suffered 12-18 months of dialup access before I first got broadband, but my time on the internet then was mostly spent on Usenet and IRC.

      Lots of fond memories from newsgroups, from starting trouble by crossposting to several* newsgroups, to finding an unused group that became a haunt for me and a few pals, youksef! (I wouldn't be surprised if that is still active!), and of course discovering so much new music in a.b.s.m.indie. In retrospect, I have to apologise for only sharing back 160kbps mp3s, not even 192kbps, but I only had 128kbps upload (or was it 64kbps?).

      I think the decline of usenet wasn't purely due to the rise of the www, and forums and messageboards and then social media, but that binaries indeed played a big part. Things were fine as long as binaries were jpegs and even mp3s, but once people started to have fast enough connections to share movies, the amount of data stored on news servers must have grown huge & therefore expensive for ISPs who then, one by one, either stopped offering any alt.binary.* newsgroup or cut off news: access altogether.

      I'll raise a glass to the Usenet too, plus it's Friday.

      1. antman

        ISPs may have dropped Usenet because not enough people used it, expected it or knew what it was as the web developed. It was no longer a factor in choosing an ISP. Providers I've used carried no binary groups or only a very limited selection so storage and pirating wasn't a big issue. They also no longer provide personal webspace but cloud services instead. I'd rather have webspace but Joe Public doesn't want, or know how to build a site - they have blogs and social media which offer a better experience at the cost of lack of control and selling their soul to advertisers.

        I'm still an avid user of Usenet. I use which is a free service and run by an Italian chap as a hobby. There are traffic limits and it's text only but no registration is required.

        By the way, Gopher servers still exist out there.

        1. Andrew Norton

          Nope, the reason most dropped them in the US, was Andrew Cuomo, who started by trying to force AT&T to drop it, because of claims of child porn, and once AT&T dropped it, others in the US did so, and then ISPs elsewhere dropped it because of fear of similar complaints, and because with a sudden US drop, overall use was down.

      2. angstboy

        Pave the Earth

        Alt,Pave,the.Earth h is the funniest thing I’ve ever read in my life. All hail Usenet. Creativity, not hatred, is what gave the Internet form, and substance. People like Zuckerberg stole it , and sold all of us in the process. And stole our political process, in the same move.

  2. Splurg The Barbarian

    Usenet, that brings back memories. Used to use it when I started at Uni. Great source of mod and midi files,none of that new fangled MP3 nonsence!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Mods, and ScreamTracker files... good times.

      Some great communities, anarchists and scientists and out and proud deviants, but I had to bail in the face of constant k-porn spam in the 2000s. Most of the non-binaries groups had been gutted by then anyway, and the invasion of AOL/Prodigy began the great migrations from irc/usenet to icq/slashot and eventually to twitter/slack/reddit.

      It's still a testament to the resilience of decentralized systems. Gopher and FIDO didn't make it, most of the 1990s era web is long gone because people build on the sandy shores of Tripod and Angelfire in the face of a rising tide, and the cool kids moved on to whatever the next new big thing was. The traces are still there though, the rise and fall of a great age of man, with all the folly and forgotten wisdom of my generation.

      1. CountCadaver Bronze badge

        Re: Mods, and ScreamTracker files... good times.

        talked to a lot of people through ICQ in various places around the world, sadly last time I looked it was bot central, really depressing tbh,

      2. Milo Tsukroff

        Re: Mods, and ScreamTracker files... good times.

        Ex-Fido Sysop here ... Fido didn't make it because it was a 'pure' BBS. The big shift in '95 shut down all the small BBS'es, including mine; the bigger ones turned into WWW on-ramps. Ah, the days long gone bye!

        1. hittitezombie

          Re: Mods, and ScreamTracker files... good times.

          Ex-Fido + Fido-like network + BBS Sysop here. I concur.

          Once the ISPs started to open up and internet became a "thing", the dial-up user to the BBSes plummeted. 8-line BBS system? Doesn't mean a thing any more, was a big thing during the early 90s.

          I think I shuttered down my own smaller BBS around '97 with about 5-10 active dial-up users, and I abandoned the larger BBS I was looking after for a friend in 99, lasted another year, then Y2K finally killed most of the Fido editors & off-line readers.

          I used to use Maximus BBS, which rolled the year over to 100, and it caused lots of problems with other BBS software. I don't think many lasted beyond 2001.

          1. Long John Brass Silver badge

            Re: Mods, and ScreamTracker files... good times.

            Gopher and FIDO didn't make it,

            Both are still around; Although pale shadows of their former glory...

            /me Ex Maximus BBS+FiDo+Doors, No DL ratios here! SysOP

            Ahhh, I loved the smell of zone mail hour in the morning; And the mail tossers running (BlueWave?)

            /OldFart Icon because, well, errrmmm

  3. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Still use it

    A handful of techie groups. Traffic is generally quite low, but remarkably free of crap.

    1. flokie

      Re: Still use it

      Wow, have the spammers finally left? I probably haven't checked for >5 years, but last time I did all I saw was spam, and a lot of it.

      1. petef

        Re: Still use it

        Sadly some groups are heavily spammed via Google groups. A shame really, Google were Usenet heroes for rescuing but now manage to outdo AOL.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still use it

    For piracy sometimes, but it's still fun.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not necessarily command line.

    It's been maybe five years or so since I posted on Usenet, but in the days when I did so from home, I used an application with a GUI interface which seems still to be available:

    Although when I found about about Usenet in the late 1980s, yep, it was command line all the way.

    Memories - well, it was always very useful for solving IT problems. But there was all those binary groups too, which I didn't make a huge amount of use of. I still recall looking at the long list of alt.binaries groups available via BT Internet's Usenet server back in the 1990s and being, well, quite surprised to find that my ISP BT Internet was providing access to the newsgroup No of course I didn't download anything from it, and it did vanish after a while. My mind still boggles at BT Internet's Usenet server *ever* providing swift and direct access to child sex abuse images.

    If you're interested in the discussions rather than the binaries, TU Berlin offers access for € 10 a year:

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Not necessarily command line.

      There's also a free service (for text groups only) here:

    2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: Not necessarily command line.

      ...and being, well, quite surprised to find that my ISP BT Internet was providing access to the newsgroup No of course I didn't download anything from it, and it did vanish after a while.

      I remember a friend having the dubious honor of having a usenet group named after her, something like "<firstname>.<lastname>" (redacted for obvious reasons).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not necessarily command line.

        Is still active?

        1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

          Re: Not necessarily command line.

          No, but is still there.

          It seems is still there, but alt.great.ass.wheaton isn't, nor is alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not necessarily command line.

            alt.ensign.wesley.die.die.die seems to still exist, looks like very little activity any more.

    3. Vometia Munro

      Re: Not necessarily command line.

      > yep, it was command line all the way.

      Still have fond memories of using trn: some may argue the kinda full-screen effect wasn't proper command-line, even if it was sort of "less, but one that could read newsgroups". Much quicker and more functional than pretty much any web interface, though.

      I gave up with newsfroups at least 15 years ago when a combination of the spammers, assorted political nutters and the usual problem of halfwits and trolls just wore through my already threadbare patience. But at its best, the likes of alt.folklore.computers which often had some big names passing through was awesome.

      10 years before that I ran a server within my particular branch of my employer cobbled together with random bits of hardware I managed to beg, borrow or steal, which is why it was always a bit of a laggard. The binary groups eventually put a stop to that since it was only every just about able to cope at the best of times, though being alerted to someone using it to access similar to the group mentioned quickly nuked what remaining enthusiasm I had to keep it going. I remember getting embroiled in a debate about whether or not it was my job to act as censor, with me mostly as an onlooker, and... well, yeah. Or rather no. But it was fun for a while, even if I did witlessly refer to it as "The Pornograph". Little did I know.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not necessarily command line.

      The group names are arbitrary strings.

      The hamster duct tape group didn't contain hamsters or duct tape.

      Some disney groups contained off the scale materal that had nothing to do with disney.

      The problem with usenet was the management wonks who tried to filter based on names!

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Not necessarily command line.

        The group names are arbitrary strings.

        Not true, at least not in the beginning. There were rules, and procedures for creating groups outside of the alt.* swamp, and some groups were moderated, or digests of mailing list content. Which did lead to some political battles, ie calls to ban alt.binaries.* or*, or some ISPs chose not to carry those groups at all.

        Main issue with Usenet in the early days was a full feed consumed a fair amount of server/disk, network and admin resources.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Not necessarily command line.

          There were rules, and procedures for creating groups outside of the alt.* swamp

          Yeah. Groups in the Big 7 (Big 8 after humanities.* was added in '95) hierarchy had to follow the rules laid down by the Usenet Cabal, or most non-leaf nodes wouldn't propagate them, effectively enforcing those rules.

          alt.* was originally created by Gilmore and Reid after the Great Renaming in '87 specifically to have a separate hierarchy that wasn't under the Cabal's control and would let people create spur-of-the-moment groups with (almost) arbitrary names.

          The bifurcation between the Big 7/8 and alt.* actually worked quite well in practice. The servers and leaf nodes I used were typically configured to carry all the Big groups (or all but binary-carrying ones) and some subset of alt.*, and as a result users could enjoy both the somewhat more restrained content of the Bigs (though many of those were pretty wild too) and the freewheeling stuff on alt.*.

          Of course, any sensible person used a reader with good subscription and killfile support, so there was user-level filtering at the group and message level as well. I think my own client history was something like rn, nn, rrn, xrn, and then eventually Thunderbird when I gave up my last local UNIX workstation. (Running xrn remotely didn't appeal - latency was too high - and I never got around to building it for any of my Linux VMs.)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bah! You kids and your newfangled "USENET"!

    I'm still using FIDONET via telnet on Shooter Jennings' BBS.

    1. Brian Miller Silver badge

      Oh Lord, I remember the FIDONET parser wars. No, I can't remember which was faster than which.

      Yes, my first modem had an acoustic coupler. I remember when plugging something directly into the telephone jack was such a big deal...

  7. Muscleguy Silver badge

    My finest hour

    On Usenet was when the resident kook on sci.archaeology accused me of not being a proper scientist. I was able to tell him he could find my name in that week's issue of Nature. A piece of excellent timing.

    I also remember the other kook on there who saw numbers in rocks convinced they had been made and coded by aliens. He posted a picture of a Scottish standing stone and started seeing numbers. One of them required the yellow patch, 'yellow' I thought, 'on Scottish granite?' Then it hit me he was reading the algae, lichens and mosses. No rock left to the elements in Scotland show the native rock surface. Life gets in there. Why geologists carry hammers, to crack the rocks open to get an unsullied look at them. Under most quartz grains on an exposed surface will be a little colony of algae.

    Paraedolia was strong in that kook, very, very strong.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Was it Kibo?

      That was part of why I liked Usenet. I used to hang out mostly in comp.risks, sci.crypt and honed my trolling skills in cam.misc. In an era of 'fake news', I think some of the Usenet technical and academic groups were great to learn critical thinking and developing one's personal SNR filters. Or just sit and learn from academics discussing the finer points of their specialist subjects.

      1. RFC822

        Re: Was it Kibo?


        cam.misc was never actually part of Usenet (even though it was carried by many nntp feeds)


        My finest hour was receiving over 1Mb of hate mail (when 1Mb was regarded as A LOT) for a joke that I posted to alt.tasteless.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Was it Kibo?

          I think cam.misc pre-dated the Great Renaming, and was a useful test for claims of newgroup completenes, ie the feed contained both that group, and alt.conspiracy.usenet-cabal, which was another fun place for trolling. Of course those were the days when trolling meant something different. Which I guess is why it might be a good thing that Usenet's mostly died. I do remember looking for jokes in alt.tasteless after wading through NANAE hunting spammers lurking in my own AS.

          (Which I guess was a continuation of the Cabal, ie like you say, hate mail & spam consumed a lot of bandwidth, and respectable ISPs would try and stomp on it.)

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Piracy doesn't always hurt sales

    I used to queue up hundreds of songs to download then go listen to them later. It's how I found The Gathering, Paradise Lost, Charon, Beseech, Theatre of Tragedy, and probably 20 other bands at a time when all the US FM radio stations were being destroyed by mega-studios with microscopic playlists of only the studio's artists. I bought those CD, then more CDs, then started buying 256kbps AAC, then buying FLAC. I might think that all music after 1990 sucked if not for Usenet.

  9. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Add new group

    Very, very fond memories.

    Not so fond: deleting a lawyer's post about helping with green cards from EVERY F****** group I was subscribed to.

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Green Card Lawyers

      No just every group _you_ subscribed to, but IIRC pretty much every group, period.

      Wikipedia ( )

      claims "at least 5500" groups.

      Then they published a book telling others how to get rich by spamming.

      Someone had a tee-shirt made up with an image of a hand full of green cards busting (Alien Style) out of a globe, with the legend "Green Card Lawyers, Spamming the Globe since 1994", and they apparently responded with a "Cease and Desist" letter claiming Trademark on "Green Card Lawyers".

      (NSF people living in some jurisdictions)

      Man, I wish I had one of those shirts

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So the people who were sent to prison were benefitting finacially from sharing content via usenet?

    I for one still cannot see how copyright infingement without financial gain can be anything other than a civil case.

    Next it will be tracking down that secret scourge on society that lends content to friends or flagrently doesn't destroy their newspapers after reading.

    Perhaps it is time for people to get out the house and start entertaining themselves again? ignoring for the moment how many politicians were paid off to give the media industry a state sponsered monopoly, the public health damage alone of the media industry is pretty high. Especially when they are not content with having their hand in everyone's pocket but also insist upon filling the prisions with people who didn't actually hurt anyone, again at the cost to everyone else.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: So the people who were sent to prison were benefitting finacially from sharing ...

      I for one still cannot see how copyright infingement without financial gain can be anything other than a civil case.

      I expect it was because of the financial loss to the copyright holder, rather than gain to the person offering the content for piracy. A civil recovery case would be difficult as you'd need to know who downloaded the material. IANAL.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Meow meow Henrietta Pussycat meow meow meow The Presidents of the United States of America meow Kitty.

  12. brotherelf

    Good ol' days of usenet.

    I remember my compsci teacher looking over my shoulder, seeing me reading a nethack newsgroup, and telling me "I don't mind, but others might, be a bit less flagrant about it". But new posters who didn't bother to read first made that mistake, too, including the one guy whose lawyer father received a printout of the post by mail. (At that time, the provider would use the phone number as part of the message id, or something like that, and reverse phone search already existed.)

    And the capital-S Shun you got in de.* if you dared post with an obvious pseudonym.

    And the scary devil monastery.

    Memories. My beard feels grey now.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Al your'e base r belong to us!"

    _ _ _ _

    / \ / \ / \ / \

    ( M | E | O | W )

    \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/

  14. Spam Junkie

    Hmm. That's arse not ass.

  15. dboyes

    But at the end of the day, we are all Rich Rosen.

  16. bigredbus007

    If usenet is now illegal how does a company like Usernet survive. Pay them to access all sorts of software, music, films etc and that's ok? I suppose because they're a German company they're immune.

    I've used to use nntp when I first had a 56k modem but eventually grew out of it

  17. ocflyfish

    Blast from my past!

    Oh man, this is a trip down memory lane! Used to be a SYSOP of a RemoteAccess board right around 91 or 92, and helped out a number of friends who ran PCBoard, and WWIV. TradeWars was a thing that consumed days of my life during college. Fond memories to be sure.

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