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Stream-ripping tools may be in (deep) trouble

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Stream-ripping is growing fast; too fast (too furious?) for the US and UK music companies. This new trend obtains a significant unfair advantage over competing legitimate music services, which pay for the right to distribute music, and thus deprive the music companies of their revenues. As you may expect, YouTube is the most popular destination as the only thing « rippers » need for ripping is a YouTube URL. Recently, the major music companies took legal action against Youtube-mp3 (« YTMP3 ») in a federal court in California for alleged copyright infringement.

But what exactly is stream-ripping?

It’s the digital equivalent of recording a song from the radio onto a cassette tape (RIP; for the nostalgic ones or newbies).

In other words, it’s the process of using an app or computer program (e.g. YTMP3) to download an audio track from a streaming service (YouTube for instance), converting it to a MP3 audio file, and enabling you to listen to your favourite songs all day long:

•             Without YouTube’s ads (yeah!);

•             Without having to buy the songs or pay for a subscription service, such as Spotify or Apple Music;

•             But also without the authorization of the Music Companies and/or of YouTube…

Stream-ripping is not new though.  It was already available more than 5 years ago when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and MPAA were too busy fighting in courts against popular torrent sites, such as the Pirate Bay, Torrentz, KickassTorrents, TorrentHound, etc. Most of them (among the most famous and long lasting) are now gone or done thanks to the Hollywood group (if you want to take look at MPAA’s 2016 list of notorious markets that offer a significant volume of infringing film and television content, click here; you are of course not allowed to use these websites).

According to a recent IFPI survey, from 2013 to 2015, about 50% of people in the US aged 16-24 now stream rip. It is even considered as now the most common form of copyright infringement.

So, what’s the case all about?

It’s a copyright infringement action under the US Copyright Act, Title 17, §§ 101, et seq., and for violations of the provisions that prohibit persons from circumventing technological measures designed to protect copyrighted works (such as YouTube rolling cipher tech).

Early October, the UK and US music companies took legal action against YTMP3, supposedly one of the most visited sites in the world, responsible for upwards of 40% of all unlawful stream ripping of music from YouTube. PMD Technologie UG, a German limited liability company, is wholly owned by Philip Matesanz (a German citizen) which describes itself as the owner and operator of YTMP3 (most likely with some friends; hereafter “the Defendants”).

YTMP3 claims on its website that’s the “easiest online service for converting videos to mp3 (…) the only thing you need is a YouTube URL (…) [and] the whole conversion process will be performed by our infrastructure and you only have to download the audio file from our servers”. The conversion is quite fast too as it’s believed that the Defendants copy and store files on their servers too.

The US and UK music companies (“the Plaintiffs”) are the copyright owners or owners of exclusive rights with respect to the vast majority of copyrighted sound recordings sold in the United States. Therefore, in legal terms, they have the exclusive rights to reproduce their copyrighted works, distribute copies or phonorecords of their copyrighted works and perform them by means of a digital audio transmission to the public. They also distribute their music in the form of digital audio files delivered or performed over the Internet through authorized services (like Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon, Spotify, etc.). They are compensated from the sale and distribution of sound recordings to the public, including the authorized online sale and streaming.

What’s the matter?

It’s pretty obvious, no? YTMP3’s service generates infringing copies of Plaintiffs’ sound recordings and distributes those infringing copies at no cost to any person who wants them. On top of that, YTMP3 makes money by running revenue-generating advertisements on the site.

What are the claims?

Plaintiffs want to stop this massive copyright infringement with 5 claims, namely:

•             Direct copyright infringement: that’s straightforward. Without authorization or consent from Plaintiffs, Defendants reproduce and distribute unauthorized reproductions of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings;

•             Contributory Copyright Infringement: Defendants have actual and constructive knowledge of the infringing activity of YTMP3’s users and they knowingly cause and otherwise materially contribute to these unauthorized reproductions and distributions of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings;

•             Vicarious Copyright Infringement: Defendants have the right and ability to supervise and control the infringing activities that occur through the use of YTMP3, and have derived a direct financial benefit from the infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrights;

•             Inducement of copyright infringement: Defendants operate the YTMP3 website with the objective of promoting its use to infringe Plaintiffs’ copyrights;

•             And finally the circumvention of technological measures by bypassing, removing, or deactivating a technological measure without the authority of Plaintiffs or YouTube.

US and UK music companies are entitled to the maximum statutory damages in the amount of $150,000 with respect to each work infringed (the case is UMG Recordings, Inc. et al v. PMD Technologie UG et al, 2:16-CV-07210). The date of the trial has not been fixed yet. Stay tuned!

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