Stream-Ripper FLVTO.biz Demands a Lawsuit In Russia, Not Virginia

FLVTO.biz is demanding that the major labels file their lawsuit in Russian courts. The Zhivopisny Bridge in Moscow, Russia. Photo Credit: Alexander Smagin

In mid-October of 2020, FLVTO.biz officially petitioned the Supreme Court in its much-publicized courtroom confrontation with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Now, the Russia-based stream-ripping giant has demanded that the RIAA file the lawsuit in its (FLVTO.biz’s) home country.

To recap, the major labels levied the underlying lawsuit against FLVTO.biz (as well as 2CONV.com and the sites’ owner, Tofig Kurbanov) in the summer of 2018. Many observers expected the case to produce a swift decision in the plaintiffs’ favor, but a judge determined that the trade organization lacked jurisdiction over the Russian stream-ripping platform, which allows individuals to save and download audio from YouTube videos.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this ruling in June of 2020, specifying that the stream-ripping services require visitors (including those in Virginia, where the RIAA filed the suit) to accept a terms of service agreement prior to use. Moreover, the court found that “the mere absence of a monetary exchange does not automatically imply a non-commercial relationship” between FLVTO.biz and its userbase.

As a result, the legal showdown has raised interesting – and consequential – jurisdictional questions, including whether U.S. copyright laws apply to a Russia native who operates stream-ripping services from his home country, particularly when said services are available to Americans and can be used with American media. For reference, Tofig Kurbanov has noted in multiple filings that he’s never visited the United States, and approximately 90 percent of FLVTO.biz’s users reside outside of America. The platforms attracted a combined total of “well over 300 million visitors” between October of 2017 and September of 2018.

In the aforementioned new legal document, the defendants doubled down upon their suggestion that the RIAA and the major labels should submit the complaint to a Russian court. (The plaintiffs said that this was “not an effective strategy for vindicating rights under American law or for obtaining meaningful relief against internet pirates.”) But FLVTO.biz and Kurbanov listed six “recent lawsuits brought in Russia” by entities including the Big Three labels.

“These materials demonstrate that Plaintiffs are clearly comfortable in the Russian courts and have effective means to protect their rights in Russia, where Mr. Kurbanov lives; where he operates the websites in question; and where every alleged act underlying Plaintiffs’ claims took place,” the defendants also wrote in the case’s latest filing.

At the time of publishing, the RIAA hadn’t commented publicly on this most recent filing. Separately, the major labels are engaged in a high-profile lawsuit with stream-ripping platform Yout, and the international crackdown on “fake stream” manipulation services is in full swing.