The Legal Battle Over YouTube Stream-Rippers Could Go to the Supreme Court

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Photo Credit: Christian Wiediger

The copyright infringement lawsuit between the RIAA and Tofig Kurbanov, owner of YouTube stream-ripping platforms and, may be heading to the Supreme Court.

To briefly recap the high-stakes courtroom confrontation, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) levied a lawsuit against the aforementioned stream-ripping websites and their Russian owner, Tofig Kurbanov, in the summer of 2018. Though many observers expected the RIAA to quickly win the case (and proceed to target other stream-ripping services, or entities that allow users to download audio files after inputting video URLs), Judge Claude M. Hilton determined that the recorded music trade organization lacked personal jurisdiction over Kurbanov.

According to the federal judge, American courts couldn’t hear the case because the “semi-interactive” and “non-commercial” sites in question are based out of Russia and don’t expressly target stateside users. Predictably, the RIAA fought back against (and, in June of this year, managed to overturn) the ruling.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff and Virginia courts have personal jurisdiction over Tofig Kurbanov in part because his platforms garnered over 500,000 unique visitors from the state (and 1.5 million total visits) between October of 2017 and September of 2018.

Additionally, the Fourth Circuit specified that “the mere absence of a monetary exchange does not automatically imply a non-commercial relationship,” emphasizing that the sites’ visitors must agree to terms of service (ToS) upon entering and view ads tailored based upon their geography.

Now, after opposing the appellate court’s decision but failing to secure a rehearing, Tofig Kurbanov is preparing to petition the Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari. Specifically, the and owner requested that a Virginia federal court stay discovery and proceedings until the Supreme Court responds to the (forthcoming) petition. The defendants also reiterated that the Fourth Circuit’s order of remand called on the district court to perform a reasonability analysis, “which may well result in the dismissal (again) of the present litigation.”

The stay request’s memorandum states at the outset that 90 percent of the stream-ripping sites’ traffic comes from users based outside the States; the platforms attracted “well over 300 million visitors” between October of 2017 and September of 2018, per a previous filing.

Additionally, the legal text cites a number of rulings – from the Fourth Circuit, other circuits, and the Supreme Court – that were purportedly contradicted by the decision to overturn the initial dismissal.

Lastly, the document notes that the defendant would “suffer irreparable harm in the absence of such a stay,” and that this damage drastically outweighs the potential “minor inconvenience” the plaintiffs may experience with a delay. Though the Supreme Court has extended the deadline for filing petitions for writs of certiorari due to the COVID-19 crisis – granting possible filers 150 days from the date of the lower court’s ruling, up from 90 days – Kurbanov intends to file by this month’s end “in order to minimize delay.”

More as this develops.

4 Responses

  1. Johnny

    Thousands of uploads of my songs on Youtube (not put there by me) and Youtube makes more money than I do from my work over many decades. And this seems fair to all the music fans! And how am I supposed to pay my electric bill when people go stream rip my songs and I like 60% of other Pro musicians leave the music industry. What do people expect from musicians when they all want free music? And don’t they understand that the quality of music might go down the toilet when all the musicians have to get day jobs. Can you imagine the Beatles recording Sgt. Pepper when they all had to record the music after they had worked all day at another job. Quality music takes a lot of time and money (the Beatles received MILLIONS to record their albums) and this new NO BUDGET music is a disaster for the music business. Well, maybe let’s try a FREE WINE business and see how good the wines taste next year!!

  2. Johnny

    What happens when we get to the point where technology would allow a copy of every movie ever made or every song ever written to be on your keychain? So summarizing, what we can see now is that the price of a unit of art will continue to decline as technology progresses. This will be true for music, movies, artwork, photographs, fiction and non fiction books, or anything which can be digitized.  As the art and content becomes less and less commercially and economically viable, it can support fewer artists. As this happens, talented artists will enter other pursuits and endeavors because everyone has to eat. Collectively, this will reduce the quality of the art available, because some people who would have gone on to produce great art will instead choose a vocation that allows them to be fed.
    The arts are dying. Technology is killing them. And the music fans don’t care …

    • Bill

      Art? People don’t view music and movies as art any longer. They place no value on content. That’s why it isn’t a second thought to rip and copy it without paying.

  3. Fairy Mason

    The SCOTUS grants less than 3% of the cases it is asked to hear. Unless there is some compelling reason to do so—for example, a split in opinion in the lower courts on an issue—it is unlikely they will hear the case.