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Major labels sue hosting company over webpage of the youtube-dl stream-ripping tool

By | Published on Tuesday 18 January 2022


The major labels have sued a German hosting company which currently hosts an official homepage for the open-source download manager youtube-dl. It’s part of the music industry’s ongoing battle with stream-ripping and the technology that powers it.

Stream-ripping, of course, has been the music industry’s top piracy gripe for a while now. That has resulted in much debate over whether or not websites that allow people to grab permanent downloads of temporary streams are liable for any sort of copyright infringement. Some test cases in Europe – including as part of web-blocking injunctions – have suggested that they probably are.

There is also a second legal question to be asked which, in the US in particular, has started to dominate the debate around the legalities of stream-ripping.

And that’s whether stream-ripping sites also violate rules – for example in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act – that prohibit the circumvention of technical protection measures put in place by digital platforms to assist in copyright management.

This has become the core argument in the big legal battle in the US between the record companies and stream-ripping service Yout, which kicked off after the labels tried to get the stream-ripper de-listed from the Google search engine.

Yout argues that YouTube doesn’t actually have any technical protection measures to stop stream-ripping, noting that – if you know what you are doing – you can actually grab a download of a YouTube stream via a web browser.

The labels counter that manually downloading a file from YouTube in that way is complicated because of various hurdles put in place by the Google video site. And those hurdles constitute a technical protection measure.

This debate is also ongoing in relation to youtube-dl, which also facilitates stream-ripping, and which the majors have also been targeting for a while now. In particular, in 2020 the music industry tried to get youtube-dl code removed from Github. Those attempts were initially successful but, after a mini-controversy, Github restored the code to its platform.

Concurrent to all that, the music industry also targeted German hosting company Uberspace with a cease-and-desist, because it hosts the official web page of youtube-dl, even though the actual code isn’t stored there.

The fact that Uberspace is based in Germany is particularly interesting, because when the record industry was seeking to get youtube-dl removed from Github, it actually cited a previous case in the German courts, because there was no real legal precedent in the US.

In that German case it was concluded that measures put in place by YouTube to try to stop stream-ripping did constitute a ‘technological protection measure’ under European law.

Anyway, according to Torrentfreak, Uberspace is now being sued through the German courts for hosting the youtube-dl web-page. If the case proceeds, it could test whether tools like youtube-dl and Yout are indeed circumventing bona fide technological protection measures when they facilitate the downloading of content off the YouTube platform.

Although it could also just end up focusing on whether any possible liabilities for any such possible circumvention should extend to a hosting company that simply hosts a web page about some code.

Either way, Uberspace’s Jonas Pasche last week told Torrentfreak that he doesn’t believe the lawsuit is justified, and mainly on the basis that the main YouTube platform doesn’t have any technological protection measures designed to stop the downloading of files. Unlike, he added, the YouTube Music subscription service and the video site’s movie rental service.

“YouTube has measures to prevent users from downloading specific content, which they make use of for YouTube Movies and Music: DRM”, he said. “They don’t use that technology [on the main site], enabling a download rather trivially. One may view youtube-dl as just a specialised browser, and you wouldn’t ban Firefox just because you can use it to access music videos on YouTube”.

We await to see how this new German case proceeds.