The online video service YouTube is an Internet giant in terms of content stored and the number of users accessing that content. YouTube’s own statistics page reports that hundreds of millions of hours worth of video is watched by the website’s users. The site’s mobile platform alone outperforms all U.S. television channels in terms of viewers reached within the 18-49 year-old range. The website supports 76 languages, covering 95 percent of the entire Internet population, and claims over one billion users.
The amount of video content uploaded to YouTube has exploded as well in recent years. As of June 2007, users were uploading video to YouTube at a rate of six hours of content every minute according to online statistics portal Statista. That rate had grown to 100 hours of video content uploads every minute by May 2013. By July 2015, the video upload rate on YouTube had reached an astounding 400 million hours, more than 45,000 years worth of video, every single minute.
With so much content hosted natively on YouTube’s servers, it’s not surprising to see that a great number of audio converter or MP3 ripping sites have proliferated online. Many of them offer software online through which a person can enter a link to a YouTube video for conversion to an audio file format like MP3 or a video and audio format like MP4. In this way, people can “rip” video files from YouTube, or audio files from music tracks, to store the information on a client computing device for access outside of YouTube.
Given YouTube’s attention to copyright infringement issues, such as mechanisms for submitting notifications of copyright infringement by YouTube-hosted content, it’s not surprising to see these third-party video and audio conversion websites become the target of legal actions filed by industry organizations representing record companies in both the United States and the United Kingdom. One such website has recently been targeted in U.S. district court for enabling music fans to download audio files ripped from music videos uploaded to YouTube.
On Monday, September 26th, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced that legal proceedings were filed in the U.S. against YouTube-mp3, which it called the world’s largest stream-ripping site. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (C.D. Cal.), includes complaints for direct copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, vicarious copyright infringement, inducement of copyright infringement and circumvention of technological measures. The suit lists 15 plaintiffs, including UMG Recordings, Warner Bros. Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Atlantic Recording Corporation and Nonesuch Records.
The plaintiffs allege that defendants YouTube-mp3 and its owner/operater, German citizen Philip Matesanz, facilitate the infringement of copyrighted sound recordings by offering a service that “rapidly and seamlessly” removes the audio tracks from YouTube videos, allowing users to store MP3 files on computing devices without the consent of YouTube or the plaintiffs and in violation of YouTube’s terms of service.
YouTube-mp3’s copyright infringement activities have been massive in scope, according to the filed complaint. Plaintiffs allege that the website has millions of users and is responsible for 40 percent of the total global copyright infringement stemming from music ripped from YouTube video tracks. They also cite a recent survey showing that 57 million people in the United States are engaged in the infringement of copyright-protected sound recordings using unauthorized online services. The plaintiffs note that stream ripping services such as YouTube-mp3 are a “major threat to the music industry” and allege that as many as hundreds of millions of music tracks are illegally downloaded through such stream ripping services on a monthly basis. Between 2013 and 2015 alone, instances of unauthorized stream ripping in the U.S. increased by 50 percent, according to the suit.
The lawsuit filing goes into step-by-step detail as to how simple YouTube-mp3 makes it to download content to a computing device in violation of copyright. Copyright infringing copies of audio recordings can be created through a few computer clicks on YouTube-mp3 and the plaintiff’s note that the website markets itself as “the easiest online service for converting videos to mp3.” To convert a YouTube video into an audio MP3 file, a person accessing YouTube-mp3 only needs to find the YouTube website address for a video file to convert and paste that address into an input box. After selecting to convert the file to MP3 format, users are presented with a download link within a few minutes which allows them to download the MP3 file converted from the video for storage on a computing device. The plaintiffs believe YouTube-mp3 is able to provide this service through the use of means to circumvent “rolling cipher” technology employed by YouTube to prevent direct access of the underlying video files stored on YouTube’s servers.
The complaint also notes how the defendants have profited from their ability to provide video-to-MP3 conversion software online. The plaintiffs allege that YouTube-mp3 works with services like AdSense and DoubleClick, both targeted advertising platforms made available by Google, that maximize the profit of third-party ads on the website and the click-through rate of those ads to generate substantial revenues from operation of the website.
In response to the copyright infringement activities which have been enabled by the YouTube-mp3 service, the studio recording plaintiffs are seeking substantial damages. The plaintiffs are seeking $150,000 per infringed work under the terms of Title 17 U.S. Code § 504, which governs statutory and actual damages which can be requested as a remedy for copyright infringement. Plaintiffs also seek $2,500 with respect to each act of copyright circumvention under Title 17 U.S. Code § 1203, which governs remedies for civil actions filed on copyright matters. The court is also being asked to order a permanent injunction that would require YouTube-mp3 to cease its copyright infringing activities.
The copyright infringement complaint in C.D. Cal. is only one arm of the international strategy to take down YouTube-mp3. The RIAA’s announcement on the copyright infringement lawsuit filing notes that the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the industry organization representing music recording companies in the UK, officially put YouTube-mp3 on notice of intended legal actions if the website does not cease to offer its copyright-infringing audio ripping service.