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RIAA says stream-ripper’s legal claim depends entirely on sneaky wordplay

By | Published on Tuesday 11 January 2022


The back and forth continues in the ongoing dispute between stream-ripping service Yout and the Recording Industry Association Of America. In case you wondered, Yout is now employing sneaky wordplay to “manufacture a disputed issue of fact”. Or so reckons the RIAA.

The stream-ripping site sued the record industry trade group in 2020 after the latter sought to have the former de-listed from the Google search engine. The RIAA made that request of Google on the basis that Yout contravenes the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act by circumventing “YouTube’s rolling cipher, a technical protection measure, that protects [the labels’] works on YouTube from unauthorised copying [and] downloading”.

The original lawsuit got super complicated as it went through the motions and it was ultimately dismissed, but with the option for Yout to file new litigation. Which it did in September. The RIAA filed new legal papers the following month seeking to have the new lawsuit dismissed. Yout then responded last month with arguments as to why the court should deny the motion for dismissal.

At the heart of the dispute is whether or not YouTube actually has any technical protection measures in place to stop people from grabbing permanent downloads of streams. If it doesn’t, then there is nothing for Yout to circumvent, meaning it isn’t breaching the DMCA.

Yout argues that you can actually grab a download of a YouTube stream via any web browser, if you know what you are doing. And, if you don’t know what you’re doing, Yout’s September legal filing provided a handy twelve step guide. The Yout service simply automates that process, it argues, and therefore can’t be said to circumvent any of those technical protection measures.

However, the RIAA argues that working through Yout’s twelve step guide to grabbing a permanent copy of YouTube content through a browser is basically a hack. Not only that, it’s a tricky process. And YouTube has made it that way deliberately. Which basically means the Google video site has put barriers in the way of manual stream-rippers. And those barriers are technical protection measures.

In its latest legal filing last week, again urging the judge to dismiss Yout’s latest lawsuit, the RIAA states: “Contrary to plaintiff’s claim, YouTube’s technology does not cease to be a technical protection measure because plaintiff can describe a different, ‘complicated’, multi-step process for, inter alia, opening ‘developer tools’, engaging with source code, isolating particular files, modifying a numerical sequence in a ‘request URL’, and arriving at a download page. That is not how YouTube’s technology operates in the normal course”.

If the American courts need any further convincing of that fact, they should take a look at a judgment in the English courts – the RIAA adds – where the UK record industry successfully secured web-blocking injunctions against a bunch of stream-ripping sites. “An English court recently held unequivocally that YouTube employs technical protection measures to effectively control access to copyrighted sound recordings”, the RIAA reports in its latest legal filing.

It then quotes directly from the judgement in the UK case, which stated that the process by which YouTube hides the specific URL of any one video file on its platform “amounts to a ‘technological measure’ … because it is a technology, device or component designed in the normal course of its operation to protect a copyright work other than a computer program: here, the sound recordings made available on YouTube”.

“The whole purpose of the technology offered by the [stream-ripping sites] is to circumvent the technical protection measures on streaming sites like YouTube”, the UK judgement adds. And, having quoted said judgement, the RIAA says: “Other courts, including in the United States, have also recognised that YouTube employs technical protection measures to protected copyrighted works”.

Responding more specifically to Yout’s most recent filing in this dispute, the RIAA says: “Plaintiff’s opposition to RIAA’s motion to dismiss repeats many of the same failed arguments that plaintiff made in the prior round of briefing and again resorts to wordplay to manufacture a disputed issue of fact. Those arguments fare no better the second time around”.

“The central issues presented by RIAA’s motion to dismiss are whether the technological protection measures employed by YouTube are effective technological protection measures under [the DMCA], and whether Yout circumvents them. The facts alleged in the [Yout’s amended lawsuit] and the law make clear that the answer to both questions is ‘yes’. YouTube does employ technological protection measures (whether labeled ‘rolling cipher’, ‘request URL’, or ‘sequence of numbers’) and the Yout service avoids or bypasses them when it makes ‘modifications’ to them”.

The RIAA then concludes: “Plaintiff’s arguments to the contrary cannot be squared with plaintiff’s own allegations, the controlling statutes, or the case law. Plaintiff has tried and failed three times to plead a plausible claim for relief. The court should dismiss the [amended lawsuit] with prejudice”.

And so the back and forth continues!