In the past few weeks, music industry global trade body IFPI and its US counterpart RIAA have been complaining of the increasing damage made to industry revenues by sites allowing consumers to rip songs from video streaming platform YouTube and download them as a separate file that can be listened to or viewed offline. This week, the industry took its first legal action against what is described as “the world’s largest site dedicated to offering illegally 'stream ripped' music,” Youtube-mp3.org.
The three majors – Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment – have filed a lawsuit filed before the District Court of California against Youtube-mp3.org and the founder of the site, 25-year-old German Philip Matesanz, as well its operating company PMD Technology. The defendants are accused of copyright infringement and circumventing technological measures.
The legal action was taken on behalf of the recorded music companies by US trade organisations the RIAA, with global trade body the IFPI coordinating legal and communication efforts. The action was supported by independent labels' bodies WIN (Worldwide Independent Network), the UK's AIM (Association for Independent Music) and the USA's A2IM.
In the UK, the BPI has sent a cease and desist letter which put the stream ripping site on formal notice of intended legal action if it does not cease infringing. For BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor it is “time to stop illegal sites like this building huge fortunes by ripping off artists and labels.” Taylor urged “responsible advertisers, search engines and hosting providers” to reflect “on the ethics of supporting sites that enrich themselves by defrauding creators.”
What prompted the lawsuit was the increasing traction gained by Youtube-mp3 in the past year with over 60 million regular users, and evidence that an increasing number of younger users were using stream ripping sites on a massive scale. According to research company IPSOS, 49% of all 16-24 year olds engaged in the activity. In a statement, Plaintiffs claim that “both the site and its operator have generated millions of dollars without paying any remuneration to artists and rights holders,” and that its activities “breach YouTube’s Terms of Service.” Already in 2012, YouTube's parent Google had threatened to sue Matesanz, then aged 21, for providing a tool to rip songs.
Labels claim in the lawsuit that “by its conduct, Youtube-mp3 directly infringes Plaintiffs’ sound recordings. It also provides the site and facilities and means for its users to engage in copyright infringement, while profiting from the infringement. YTMP3 also materially contributes to the infringement by its users, of which it has knowledge.”
Noting that between 2013 and 2015 alone, unauthorised stream ripping has increased by 50% in the United States, the suit argues that “the scale of Defendants’ infringing activity is enormous. Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and on that basis allege, that the YTMP3 website is one of the most visited sites in the world, has tens of millions of users, and is responsible for upwards of 40% of all unlawful stream ripping of music from YouTube in the world.”
Plaintiffs are asking for a declaration that the Defendants are wilfully infringing copyright and seek a preliminary injunction requiring that Youtube-mp3 ceases said infringements, ceases circumventing technological measures, and surrenders the domain name www.youtube-mp3.org. They are also seeking statutory damages in the amount of $150,000 per infringed work and they demand a jury by trial.
“This is a coordinated action to protect the rights of artists and labels from the blatant infringements of YouTube-mp3, the world’s single-largest ‘stream ripping’ site,” said London-based IFPI Chief Executive Frances Moore, who said that the plethora of digital services that allow consumers to access music legally and that compensate rights holders should not be “jeopardised” by such illegal sites.
Cary Sherman, the Chairman and CEO of Washington, DC-based the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), added: “This site is raking in millions on the backs of artists, songwriters and labels. We are doing our part, but everyone in the music ecosystem who says they believe that artists should be compensated for their work has a role to play. It should not be so easy to engage in this activity in the first place, and no stream ripping site should appear at the top of any search result or app chart.”
Alison Wenham, CEO of WIN (Worldwide Independent Network) & AIM (Association for Independent Music) endorsed the action, arguing that “stream ripping is not a victimless crime” and that “the more stream ripping takes place, the less investment into music will be made to the ultimate detriment of music fans.”
Richard Burgess, CEO of New York-based A2IM, representing US independent record labels added: "Stream ripping is yet another illegal activity that deprives artists, songwriters, publishers, and labels of their rightful revenues and their ability to make a living. It must be stopped immediately."