Foreign Stream-Ripping Site Wins Against Music Labels Based On Jurisdiction

from the not-like-this dept

It’s been quite frustrating to watch the music industry continually turn its legal gaze to whatever it insists is the “new” threat. From the traditional piratey-scapegoats like Napster, to torrent sites, and on to file-lockers, before finally moving over to stream-ripping sites — it’s been quite predictable, if a bit silly. As with so many industry-led crusades against technology tools, this attack on these types of sites carries with it the misguided notion that because a site or tool can be used to infringe on music copyrights, it therefore is an enemy and must be shut down entirely. We’ve seen this same tactic used against tons of technology tools that have had perfectly legal uses in the past, but in the case of stream-ripping sites, most have decided to simply fold.

Which makes it somewhat noteworthy that one foreign site is fighting back and winning against a legal challenge in the US, if only on jurisdictional grounds. and, owned by Russian developer Tofig Kurbanov, remained online despite being sued by several record labels last August. Where other site owners often prefer to remain in the shadows, Kurbanov filed a motion to dismiss the case. According to the defense, the court has no jurisdiction over the matter. Only a small fraction of the visitors come from the US, and the site is managed entirely from Russia, it argued.

The RIAA labels involved in the suit disagreed, of course. As with all lawsuits of this kind, the labels merely see a tool that American users can get to, and can use to infringe, therefore it must be killed off. FLVTO pointing out that it doesn’t do anything to entice American users to its site, nor does it engage in any commercial activity on the site other than displaying advertisements, did nothing to keep the RIAA from suing. It did, however, convince the judge to toss the case on jurisdictional grounds.

“Even if the Websites’ servers knew exactly where the users were located, any interaction would still be in the unilateral control of the users as they initiate the contacts,” Judge Hilton’s opinion reads.

There could be personal jurisdiction if there’s a “commercial contract” involved. However, that’s not the case here. The site generates revenue from users through advertisements, but that’s not seen as a basis for a commercial contract, the court concludes.

In other words, an American company can’t sue a foreign operator in the US simply because the internet works as intended.

While this is a good ruling generally, it might be nice to get the courts to establish some clarity on the legal status of stream-ripping sites. Again, these are essentially dumb sites that don’t care whether the rip is infringing or not. They are a tool, nothing more. Given that, the fact that these sites are shutting themselves down under the mere threat of lawsuits represents a pretty clear chilling effect on the dissemination of otherwise legal tools and technology to the internet writ large.

This is especially true given that we already have a pretty clear precedent for this issue. Stream ripping is little different from the VCR in effect. It is taking a “stream” of live content, and “recording” it for personal use and storage. Thirty-five years ago, the Supreme Court made it clear that this was perfectly legal in the famous Sony Betamax case. In that case, the court found that there were substantial non-infringing uses of the technology — as is true of stream rippers — and that “time shifting” of content that was being streamed live was a perfectly legitimate use. As the ruling in the Betamax case found:

The question is thus whether the Betamax is capable of commercially significant noninfringing uses. In order to resolve that question, we need not explore all the different potential uses of the machine and determine whether or not they would constitute infringement. Rather, we need only consider whether, on the basis of the facts as found by the District Court, a significant number of them would be noninfringing. Moreover, in order to resolve this case, we need not give precise content to the question of how much use is commercially significant. For one potential use of the Betamax plainly satisfies this standard, however it is understood: private, noncommercial time-shifting in the home. It does so both (A) because respondents have no right to prevent other copyright holders from authorizing it for their programs, and (B) because the District Court’s factual findings reveal that even the unauthorized home time-shifting of respondents’ programs is legitimate fair use.

It is difficult to see how that same standard does not apply to stream ripping as well — but so far, the RIAA (in particular) is acting as if the Supreme Court ruled the opposite way in the Betamax case, and because many of these sites are small, they have little desire to actually fight a huge, costly legal battle. And thus, the RIAA has mostly been able to kill off the modern VCR. This case turned on jurisdiction issues, which is a good start, but a clear ruling that stream ripping is legal, a la the Betamax, would be even better.

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Comments on “Foreign Stream-Ripping Site Wins Against Music Labels Based On Jurisdiction”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright law generally gives jurisdiction to the location from which the protected work was “stolen,” i.e., the US in this case.

However, RealPlayer has a “download this video” feature built into its software, that would also appear to be infringing, yet which continues to exist. Numerous other programs also allow recording of what’s on the computer screen so I don’t see how ripping a publicly available stream would be an issue.

Wouldn’t the proper strategy be to require YouTube to stop these uploads?

Jono793 (profile) says:

A post-Machinima landscape.

The rights industry would like us to believe that stream ripping is a tool for pirates. “Why would you need to download a stream?” They claim. ” After all, you can watch the streams, on demand, any time you want.”

And for a while, we might have agreed. “Well, I guess I don’t really need a local copy. My hard drive has limited space after all. And it’s basically all there on demand.” It was a covenant of convenience.

Then this week, Machinima happened.

Nearly a decade of influential, meaningful, trailblazing video content. All of it memory-holed on the whim of some corporation, who had no hand in its creation.

So well done corporate America. Well done for transforming stream ripping from the bogeyman you claim it is, into the moral imperative to preserving internet culture!

Anonymous Grande and Cox says:

Re: A post-Machinima landscape.

My internet connection is spotty and intermittent. At one point it’s okay, and at another, watching paint dry would be more productive. Stream ripping sites, youtube-dl, Free Download Manager’s video downloading functions, what have you, are all great helps in letting me watch my favorite channels without the drag of buffering halting the content. There is more to them beyond local copies. Heck, I bet some creators use them to retain a copy of their work should they lose the original (say a Machinima scenario happens again).

Of course the likes of the RIAA have to raise a stink about it, I’ll be damned if they leave anything useful on the internet without painting it as the threat to “creative minds” or whatever. Let’s hope they don’t actually point their fingers at YouTube for stream ripping. I certainly wouldn’t want DRM on every single video you could watch for free because of their self-inflicted licensing hell.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A post-Machinima landscape.

Really that monopolism is what they really want. Witnesses the legal non-sequitors thrown into the MEGAupload thuggery complaining about him making a rap music video with an artist. There was even less of a legal grounds to mention it than the whole case. It would be like including in charges filed against your rival accusing him of drug smuggling on flinst grounds and adding “And he poached my gardener by offering to pay him $2/hr more!”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'I reject your reality, and substitute my own. Now, believe it!'

It is difficult to see how that same standard does not apply to stream ripping as well — but so far, the RIAA (in particular) is acting as if the Supreme Court ruled the opposite way in the Betamax case, and because many of these sites are small, they have little desire to actually fight a huge, costly legal battle.

By any sane measure it does, however you explained nicely why they are acting as though it doesn’t yourself in the second half of the paragraph.

And thus, the RIAA has mostly been able to kill off the modern VCR. This case turned on jurisdiction issues, which is a good start, but a clear ruling that stream ripping is legal, a la the Betamax, would be even better.

They failed to kill the VCR, but by ignoring a clear reading of the law and going after smaller players they have been able to kill off the current incarnation of it, such that the odds of a modern-day Betamax, and a ruling making it clear that it’s legal too, ever making it to the market is all but non-existent.

Glenn says:

The “music industry” can’t get past the notion of how many trillions of dollars in profit (not merely revenue) that they’d be making if only people everywhere bought everything they were selling (because they live in that delusional dreamworld). It’s only natural that they see themselves in everyone else (and since they’re a bunch of thieves, they naturally think all people everywhere are perfectly willing to steal–aka infringe–every chance they get).

Except that’s not the reality. Very little real music comes out of the recording industry anymore. Those of us who would have been happy to spend a lot of money on great music started boycotting the industry back in the ’90s when they started suing everyone for sharing (aka free advertising) new music they loved–music which people would ultimately buy because most people are basically honest to begin with. Except a certain class of kids. And basically the only customers the industry has now are kids who get most of their money from their parents and feel free to waste it on whatever trash everyone else is buying because there’s a flashy video with hot-looking guys and/or girls. Music? …not usually.

Just think how rich they’d all be if they’d never decided to attack human nature (“Well, I’d like to try before I buy.”).

Anonymous Coward says:

as we all know, the real reason the music (and for that matter, every section of the entertainment industries/copyright industries) is that they are so gutless in actually providing customers what they want, in competing with whatever service is now available in this technological age, in charging prices that customers are prepared to pay rather than what the industries think they should be paid and making obtaining downloads as easy and clean as possible, with the addition of format shifting and keeping control of not just their ‘stuff’ but screwing up the advancement of the planet in terms of music, movies, games, literature, everything, through new tech, they go to whatever lengths they dream up to do so. what is so much more annoying is that just about every section of the security services, courts, politicians and governments is helping them as well! it’s as if everything that has advanced since the 50s’ has to be halted just so the ‘entertainment industries can carry on doing what they want, getting what they want, whilst everyone else suffers! it seems to be this ‘there’s no such thing as Aliens and if we withhold the information, eventually there wont be any’!

Qwertygiy says:

Re: Re: Re:

Correct, but this case isn’t actually about piracy, as far as I’m concerned. It’s no different than using a DVR to record a live broadcast so that you can watch it later, or even using screen-recording software, as long as the user already has access to the stream.

Now, sharing and redistributing what you’ve downloaded could be piracy in many (dare I say most) situations. If they allowed or encouraged that, it might cause them some trouble, but the ability to make copies for personal use is a deeply enshrined policy of copyright.

I’m all in favor of finding ways to prevent the Pirate Bays and Putlockers of the internet who exist primarily to publish legally-protected content for free, but that is as different from this case as “painting along with Bob Ross” is from “selling photocopies of Boss Ross’s paintings.”

Qwertygiy says:

Re: People will ALWAYS find a way.

The content has to be sent to your computer for you to be able to view it in the first place. From a purely practical standpoint, making it impossible to keep means making it impossible to view.

I have seen it’s possible to obtain download links for MP3’s from certain mainstream music streaming services by checking my browser’s media connections. I could also do that on the level of the computer’s connection to the network or the network’s connection to the internet. This can be made more difficult by breaking it up into many little media files instead of one, but the same procedure still works.

And to get analog with it, copying it before or after it goes from the CPU to the display with screen recording software (or hardware) is equally impossible to circumvent.

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