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Major labels seek $83 million in damages from Russian stream-ripper

By | Published on Thursday 7 October 2021


The major labels are seeking a neat $83 million in damages from the Russian operator of stream-ripping set-ups FLVTO and 2conv after securing a default judgement in their favour in an ongoing copyright dispute in the US courts. They’ll probably never see any of that cash – even if the court awards them the mega-bucks damages – which is possibly why the record companies also want to seize the stream-ripper’s domains.

The music industry has filed – or threatened to file – litigation against various stream-ripping services in recent years, of course, those being services that turn temporary streams, often YouTube streams, into permanent downloads. Most targeted services either ignore the legal threats or quickly shutdown their operations, but FLVTO and 2conv owner Tofig Kurbanov decided to fight the labels in court.

He began by trying to get the case dismissed on jurisdiction grounds, because he was a Russian citizen running a Russian internet business from Russia, meaning – he argued – the US courts had no jurisdiction. That tactic actually worked initially and the case was dismissed.

But it was reinstated on appeal and the US Supreme Court declined to consider Kurbanov’s jurisdiction arguments, so then things moved onto the labels’ copyright arguments, and whether or not the provider of a stream-ripping service is liable for any copyright infringement that service might enable.

Things then progressed as you might expect, until the labels asked the court to force Kurbanov to hand over his server logs so that they could see what content his users were ripping and where those users were based. Kurbanov said that he didn’t have any such data. The majors countered that he should do.

Of course, Kurbanov could gather that data if he wanted to, but he argued that doing so would be a major hassle, and also pose all sorts of privacy and data protection concerns. However, the court did not agree and ordered him to start storing the data the labels wanted – and to then share it with the music companies.

At that point Kurbanov decided to bail on the case entirely, with his American lawyers telling the judge in July: “Mr Kurbanov has made clear that he does not intend to cooperate further with the present litigation”. That meant a default judgement in the labels’ favour was assured, though Kurbanov presumably reckons that, living 5000 miles away from the court in Virginia that is hearing the case, he can live with that.

That default judgement in the labels’ favour was confirmed last week. Which means that Kurbanov is liable for the copyright infringement his service facilitated – and also for violating rules in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act that prohibit the circumvention of copyright protection measures, like those put in place by YouTube to stop stream-ripping.

There is now the all important matter of what damages Kurbanov should pay and whether any other sanctions should be ordered against his stream-ripping business. The labels filed new papers with the court earlier this week outlining their wish list in this domain.

The labels are seeking $50,000 in damages for the wilful infringement of 1618 specific recordings that were ripped via FLVTO and 2conv. They also want $1,250 for every time the stream-ripping sites circumvented YouTube’s copyright protection technology. And that – fans of maths will be interested to know – comes out at $82,922,500.

Even if the court awards the labels damages in that ballpark, the chances of Russia-based Kurbanov ever handing over any monies seem slim. The music companies have also asked for an injunction ordering Kurbanov to stop engaging in any copyright infringing activity, which – based on the default judgement – would include running FLVTO and 2conv. Although that injunction would only be enforceable within the US, and Kurbanov has already officially blocked his service from being accessed within that country.

So perhaps the most important sanction requested by the labels is an order that allows them to seize the domains used by FLVTO and 2conv. Kurbanov could just get new domains, of course, but at least the labels could put stern notices on the domains he currently uses explaining why stream-ripping is evil and how people should just get themselves a premium streaming subscription that allows offline listening. Which would be something, I guess.