Instead of our usual reviews, we decided to let someone from the team write a nostalgic article on one of the greatest innovators in Usenet of the last decade. It is not necessarily factual, as emotions often toy with the memories, so some details might be off.
As always, this article is not meant to encourage you to download anything you shouldn’t, as this is completely your responsibility.
It was sometimes in my youth, maybe with 14 or 15, that I first discovered Usenet. Back in the days, there was no Facebook, no YouTube or Myspace, no social networking, but most of all, not many ways existed to get movies, games, and all the other good stuff that I had no money to pay for. Oh, yeah sure, there was eDonkey2000, and this all-new thing called torrents, but our Internet plan had a pretty strict volume limit, and there was no way I could afford all the uploading bandwidth these programs produced.
“Good Old Days?” Hardly.
Remember how file sharing used to be? There was no talk about warnings or lawsuits, but speeds were horrible, and the most common tip for high download speeds with eDonkey or eMule was “add 20 or so files on your download list, and eventually you’ll get full speed”. Yeah, there was KaZaA, but it was for music and nothing else, except the occasional anime porn picture (i.e. hentai) to secretly download, jerk off to and then delete when my parents were not watching, all with the extasic and at the same time shameful feeling of doing something forbidden. No large files ever made it to my computer with these programs however.
(The website of KaZaA. Back then, it was the best.)
And there were the web warez sites, promising all kinds of direct download links for so much good stuff… but they never worked. There were no one-click hosters like Rapidshare (RIP), only hacked FTP-servers and similar crap that got deleted the second it went public (or so it felt like).
FXP was out of the question, and I’d never heard of DCC or IRC downloads, and thus, I was surrounded by a barrage of offers for all the cool things you could get… only that I was never able to get them.
Usenet, The Big Unknown
But there was Usenet, this elusive and strange place, where all the downloads were instantaneous and incredibly fast, and everything was available, and almost no one used it except for a bunch of people that really knew what they’re doing. Ah, and the constant talk about how Warez should never be paid for, and how Usenet was violating this code of conduct, with the occasional counterargument that Usenetters were only paying for access to a platform, not the content itself.
Tempting as it was, there was a, seemingly, impossible to overcome problem: The payment. My parents didn’t have a credit card, and there was no Paypal, no prepaid debit cards, no nothing in Germany. Also, $15 for unlimited Usenet seemed like an impossible sum to pay from my pocket money. But there was this friend I had (actually I bullied him a lot, something I’m not proud of), and he had a father with a Visa card. Success!
The Adventure Begins
And so, after playing around with the less-than-great BuzzardNews (now discontinued), because you could actually pay them with Paypal, I finally got access to an unlimited plan from Newshosting.com, which I shared with my friend. And off I went to the newsgroups, and the speed was indeed incredible. But how was I going to find content? There were no free search engines around, another reason why UseNeXt became so popular so quickly. After playing around with XPAT search (which allows you to search through the newsgroups, one by one), I felt like this was the thing that was sure to bring my dreams of great content to a grinding halt.
But then I found it: newzBin came to the rescue.
(BuzzardNews, the provider with the most incomplete files. Ever.)
newzBin In Its Best Times
Suddenly, I could find what I wanted.
Suddenly, all it took was to signup to this beautiful, little website, and simply browse through newsgroups, or better yet, enter a keyword in a simple search mask and BAM!, there was the content I looked for. Content was not simply automatically added, no, there were actual human editors browsing through newsgroups and manually adding everything to the site, cleanly sorted by name, genre, and everything in between.
(The old newzBin website)
Better yet, for a small fee you could get access to NZB files, completely new at the time and actually an original invention of newzBin; it was a small revolution.
Soon, that credit card was used to buy some premium credits for newzBin, and the adventure continued. There was so much to look for, so much to find: From Anime, TV shows, everything landed on my hard drive, producing a massive number of CD blanks getting filled with stuff, with no sense whatsoever, other than something had looked cool in the search results.
It was so fun, because newzBin had not been run to shit yet. No DMCA takedowns, a vast majority of Usenet content was being indexed (or at least, it felt like it). Gone were the days of manual header downloads, which took even longer than today because our connections were so slow.
(Yes, there were actually sales for credits. And people loved those.)
Yes, newzBin was an innovation I gladly payed money for. After all, there was no Netflix to turn to, no Steam sales, no Spotify nor YouTube for music, no nothing… we had to rely on illegal downloading because there was no inexpensive alternative (or even any alternative at all) to get somewhat convenient access to all the good stuff. And to a certain extend, it’s still the case today, with Netflix in Europe being “shitty”, as one guy I met on holidays in Venice put it (not that it’s not still way cool, and getting better every month), some music not available on streaming services, and many Anime still absent from legal sites.
The fun thing was that we, the pirates who allegedly didn’t want to pay for anything, paid, and paid gladly, for both the convenience of newzBin and the speed of Usenet. Funny indeed, seeing how the copyright industry is still struggling to provide good alternatives for sites like this, and to what length people go to still enjoy all their way cool products.
But things started to go downhill from here, and soon it was clear that the good times were soon to be over.
Less And Less Indexed Content: The Slow Downfall Of newzBin
I cannot clearly remember when it first started, but in the course of a months, I started to feel that less and less posts got indexed. All too often, I would find things on Usenet that were nowhere to be found on newzBin, and it got worse over time. More and more, it seemed like the now rising Usenet search engines were the better way to go.
(newzBin in 2011, after the relaunch)
Then, of course, there was all the legal trouble. Much has been written on this saga, and it would be pointless to rewrite it all over again. Enough to say that after a long and fierce battle with the MPAA, resulting in six-figure penalties and code being stolen and published on Usenet finally took its toll on the team, and in the fall of 2012, the new owner finally called it quits and closed shop. One of the greatest and largest Usenet indexer, inventor of the NZB format and general innovator and pioneer, was finally history.
Paying For Downloads: A Controversy Up To This Day
With the code being available, soon a number of competitors rose to replace newzBin. All of those require money to fully use them, and this is by far one of the largest controversies in some places of the web. Should you pay to download unlicensed copyrighted material online? Granted, there is loads of legal content available too, but a majority is infringing copyright (although downloading it might be legal in your jurisdiction, see our article Legal Or Illegal: Debunking The Myths). Did the operators of newzBin make a lot of money from it? Caesium, one of the three of the original team, had this to say in his final statement:
Did I get rich from Newzbin? Not really. I made a comfortable living but at the same time I had no job while I was working on Newzbin, so I pretty much think I was entitled to take a decent wage, thanks. Newzbin ate my life for more or less a decade, being one of only three people working fulltime on it, caring for servers, making regular datacentre trips to replace dead disks, lugging heavy servers around, being woken up at all hours by the pager telling me a server was dying, maintaining the accounts, paying VAT returns, playing nicely with the UK taxman, as well as actually writing the site on a near continual basis. Anyone who thought it was easy money is sadly mistaken. Try running a busy site sometime.Caesium, newzBin Team
And in the end, what made newzBin so great was that it provided content in a convenient, organized fashion that took the work out of downloading stuff. When the copyright industry wasn’t willing to provide what the customers wanted, newzBin did, at a good price. If there was ever proof that “pirates” are willing to pay, Usenet and newzBin prove it: Make people a fair deal, and they’ll jump.