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A nice surprise when I woke up this afternoon:  the venerable BitTorrent site & tracker EzTree is back up-and-running,  albeit with a different name and URL  (member profiles,  share ratios,   and other statistics are carried-over as well).  I actually found out about it through a post-by-email from a different Yahoo group and I'm not certain if they're publicizing the change right now.  Still great news for a BT "junkie" like myself  (although I've spent much of the past couple of days seeding and downloading shows from a variety of other trackers).

It turns out that the offending torrent on the original site was a Nirvana concert video,  a show that was broadcast on German TV and of which one song was later officially released.  EzTree always had a strict policy of disallowing commercially-released copyrighted material from being offered but due to the high volume of uploads the moderators couldn't catch the occasional slip-up.  They relied on knowledgeable members to report bad torrents.  However,  the interesting thing is that it was the service provider that panicked  (and perhaps commited a crime themselves) -- the letter from the German lawyers merely asked that this one offending torrent be removed  (one out of thousands).  But the ISP decided to kick EZT off their servers;  and apparently are also trying to keep a substantial amount of money that was donated by EZT's members towards S.E. Asian tsunami relief efforts.

Although EzTree  (on both the old and the new sites)  included all sorts of disclaimers against their members torrenting copyrighted material,  if they ever were sued the relevant statutes  (at least in the United States)  would be either direct or contributory liability.  Here's an interesing e-mail I received explaining the two:

Date: Fri, 08 Apr 2005 15:49:19 -0000
From: "Shiv"
Subject: direct vs contributory liability

I wanted to comment on some confusion regarding these two.  The people who are doing the actual exchange of files, they are the ones that are directly infringing if the material being exchanged is copyrighted.  Someone is contributorily liable if (i) they provide the technology to the direct infringers that allows them to exchange files; (ii) they know that the files being exchanged by the users are copyrighted; and (iii) they actively encourage or induce the technology users to infringe.  All three elements must be met.

Easytree will never be accused of direct infringement, if suit is brought it will be accusing Easytree of indirect (contributory) liability.  In the case of Sony's Betamax VCR, the Court found that Sony knew the VCR might be used to infringe but Sony did not actively encourage users to infringe and indeed warned users that taping some shows might violate copyright laws.  Sony was not found not guilty of contributory liability.

Napster hosted the index file and attracted users by displaying lists of copyrighted material available on its network so the Court found contributory liability.  Similarly, Aimster's tutorials only gave examples of how to get copyrighted materials and Aimster did not have a single user actually using the technology for a noninfringing purpose so the Court easily found Aimster contributorily liable.

In Grokster, the Court found Grokster capable of substantial noninfringing uses (unlike Aimster).  Because Grokster did not host the files or the index, it did not know of any infringement, nor did it encourage users to infringe.  The Court found Grokster not liable for any infringement by its users.

So all this means is that its easier to make a case against a person who downloaded the Nirvana materials than it is against Easytree.  The other side would have to show Easytree know there was infringing material and failed to act on that knowledge.

I admit I am condensing a lot off legal concepts down to as simple a propostion as possible but this should give you an idea of the issues involved.  The issue here is did Easytree materially contribute to its user's infringing behavior.  Easytree did not supply the software BT client users employ to download.  It does not host the files or the index.  As with Grokster, even if Easytree shuts down we can continue to exchange files to a certain extent and so it is releatively uninvolved in the exchange of files.

So Easytree doesn't supply the BT client, has no knowledge (and if it does have knowledge that something is copyrighted it acts on that knowledge and bans the torrent), does not encourage infringing behavior because it bans torrents in violation of the rules so I don't see how anyone could win a case to prove Easytree was contributorily liable.
For the record,  here's the policy stated on EzTree about what they allow:
What kind of torrents are allowed with this tracker?

  • All torrents must have music related content.

  • No torrent may distribute any official material.  This includes, of course, OOP material and the separated audio part of VHS videos, Laserdisc videos, and DVD videos, too — even if the recording is from a different source than the officially available material.  Also not allowed are remixes/remasters of any officially available material and so called "bastard" mixes.  One exception:  The recording represents a complete show of which only minor parts are (or have been) officially available.  In this case it's ok to keep those minor parts included to the recording.  This applies not to compilations.  No compilation may contain any officially available material!

  • No torrent may distribute any material of artists respectively bands who do not agree to the electronic distribution of their inofficially recorded live shows.  For a list of bands/artists see here.

  • No torrent may distribute any lossy compressed music, i.e. MP3, VQF, OGG, so long as the material is known or expected to be available to the trading community in better quality.

  • No torrent may contain compressed archive files, i.e. RAR, ZIP, GZ.  For content allowed with this tracker it doesn't make much sense to pack it in compressed archives.  Thus, we assume that the torrent uploader wants to hide impermissible content in case a torrent contains such files.

  • No torrent may contain losseless compressed but platform dependent files like MKW.  It's contra bonos mores of live music trading to exclude users of other platforms from the download!

  • No torrent may contain uncompressed PCM audio files like WAV, AIFF.  Including such files to a torrent is a huge waste of bandwidth — both, on seeder's side and downloader's side.

  • Microsoft Windows executables like EXE, COM are not allowed in a torrent because of the risk of carrying viruses.

  • Torrents without a self-explanatory title or detailed description indicating the contents, as well as torrented data not containing an info-file in plain text format (file extensions .txt or .asc) with a content's description will be considered as contra bonos mores of live music trading and are not allowed on EZT.

If you are not sure if your torrent will adhere to these rules, please ask the moderators first.  Torrents violating the rules or contra bonos mores of live music trading will be banned without further notice.


What is EZT's policy regarding specifications/limitations taper-friendly artists/bands put on their taping/trading permissions?

When an artist does the taper/trader community the courtesy of explicitly allowing some taping and trading of their performances, EZT returns the courtesy by respecting the specifications/limitations that the artist puts on that permission.

There's a torrent which might violate tracker policies.  How to report it?

In every torrent's details page you'll find the commend Report torrent at the end of the torrent's details, just before the comment section starts. Please use this command to report torrents to EZT's moderators.  Thank you!
Now,  as fascinating as I find all of this I think it's time to stop reading and writing about it and go download that 3-CD Santana 20th anniversary concert I've had my eye on!

Welcome back,  EzyTree!