RIAA Counters Yout.com Stream-Ripper Brief at U.S. Court of Appeal
When the global music industry declared YouTube-ripping platforms public enemy number one and responsible for most music piracy online, the stage was set for legal showdowns.
Stream-ripping platform Yout took the initiative in 2020 by suing the RIAA, hoping that the court would declare its service non-infringing. The battle to convince the judge centered on YouTube’s ‘rolling cypher’ and whether it should (or should not) be considered a Technological Protection Measure (TPM).
Under the DMCA, unauthorized circumvention of a TPM amounts to copyright infringement, so it was up to Yout owner Johnathan Nader to satisfy the judge that his platform does not amount to a circumvention tool. In 2022, Judge Stefan Underhill concluded that since Yout’s evidence failed to meet that standard, the case would be dismissed and the RIAA would emerge on top.
Yout.com Takes Case to Appeal
Based on his firm belief that YouTube-ripping tools do not violate the DMCA, Nader took his case to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. No stone was left unturned in his 92-page opening brief, with Nader claiming that the lower court’s dismissal was premature.
Arguing that the Yout platform amounts to a modern VCR with just as many non-infringing uses, once again Yout explained how anyone with a browser can download videos from YouTube for time-shifting purposes. The service doesn’t save any of that content on its own servers either, every decision lies with the user.
Yout’s arguments inevitably focused on YouTube’s ‘rolling cypher’ and its characterization as a technological protection measure. The RIAA’s position couldn’t be more clear but the system actually belongs to YouTube; did the company design the mechanism to limit copying? If not, that could put the RIAA’s claims in a different light, Yout informed the court.
RIAA Returns Fire
In an answering brief filed this week, the labels waste no time in drilling down to what they believe are the fundamental issues.
“This case involves Yout’s illicit stream-ripping service. YouTube provides users with streams of music videos, not free downloads. YouTube’s users can watch and listen to music videos for free on its ad-supported service, but those users do not get access to the digital files that contain the record companies’ valuable copyrighted works,” the brief begins.
“As its name suggests, Yout enables its users to gain unauthorized access to the digital music files from YouTube and download copies. The purpose of Yout is to bypass YouTube’s technological restrictions on accessing the digital copies of works streamed on YouTube.”
The RIAA claims that Yout’s users have no need to buy legal music subscriptions or visit ad-supported streaming services. Yout, meanwhile, “pays nothing to the owners of the copyrighted content that is plundered.”
RIAA: Courts Say Stream-Ripping Technology is Unlawful
Referencing the district court’s opinion, the RIAA describes it as “correct on all counts” and in line with findings by courts outside the U.S. that stream-ripping technology is unlawful. That leads directly back to the fundamental questions in the case on which the parties fundamentally disagree.
- Does YouTube employ a technological measure that effectively controls access to copyrighted works?
- If the answer is yes, does the Yout service circumvent it?
These questions have been answered many times since this process began in 2020, with Yout insisting there is no TPM and the RIAA arguing the opposite. In the labels’ answer dated May 4, they cite Yout’s explanation of what happens on YouTube and its subsequent actions as a service.
“Second, Yout alleges that its service uses a process for avoiding or bypassing this technological measure by, among other steps, ‘modif[ying]’ the range of numbers in the ‘signature value,’ and thereby gaining unauthorized access to the ‘download[able]’ ‘file[s]’ that comprise the music video.”
From proceedings thus far it’s clear that the parties do actually agree on some details, albeit not for very long.
Yout Wants to Hear YouTube’s Take
To find out, Yout would like to involve YouTube, which might even help to support the RIAA’s claims. Ultimately, the RIAA doesn’t want that to happen because it says that YouTube’s intent doesn’t matter.
“Yout raises a scattershot of arguments for reversal. None of them succeeds. For example, Yout argues that discovery is necessary to determine whether YouTube ‘inten[ded]’ the signature value mechanism to be a technological measure under the DMCA…but YouTube’s intent is irrelevant under the statute,” the industry group says.
While that is technically correct, a senior Google attorney is on record in Europea saying that the measures were implemented to protect copyright holders. Whether that also applies to the United States is unknown.
Dozens of Pages of Background
At 68-pages long the RIAA’s answer is certainly detailed but if YouTube’s intent is irrelevent under the statute in the United States, the same doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to citing court decisions in jurisdictions thousands of miles away.
“Yout has faced anti-circumvention lawsuits outside the United States, where courts and law enforcement have uniformly concluded that Yout’s service violates those countries’ equivalents to the DMCA,” the RIAA’s answer notes, citing an injunction application in Denmark.
The labels also mention a case they launched against German hosting company Uberspace, which hosted the website of youtube-dl but not the software itself; that was available via a hyperlink to another site.
For perspective, Denmark blocks pirate sites, including YouTube-ripping platforms. Germany blocks pirate sites too. The United States does not. Also relevant is the fact that youtube-dl is hosted on Github in the United States. When the labels’ attempt to take it down failed, no lawsuit followed in the United States, where the DMCA actually has jurisdiction.
RIAA Mentions GitHub
That GitHub is mentioned in the RIAA’s answer is interesting. The coding platform filed an amicus brief in the current case back in February.
Highlighting the importance of browser extensions such as Dark Reader, Google Translate, and OpenDyslexic, GitHub voiced concerns that the district court’s ruling could put developers at risk of criminalization if the DMCA is interpreted too strictly.
“YouTube’s decision not to provide its own ‘download’ button, however, is not a restriction on access to works. It merely affects how users experience them,” GitHub informed the court.
GitHub’s assertion that the court’s interpretation of section 1201(a) amounts to a control on how a person experiences content, rather than a control on access, is dismissed in the RIAA’s brief.
Translation or accessibility tools would not run afoul of section 1201(a) because they are “unlikely to involve a signature mechanism at all, let alone modifying that mechanism to provide access to an underlying digital file for a copyrighted work.”
In its conclusion, the RIAA says that Yout’s own allegations establish that its service violates the DMCA and, as such, the Court of Appeal should affirm the the district court’s ruling.
The RIAA’s answering brief is available here (pdf)
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.