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US record industry’s stream ripping battle back in court

By | Published on Monday 4 May 2020


The dispute between the US record industry and the Russian owner of stream-ripping sites and was back in court last week. The usual copyright arguments were presented by both sides, though the big issue for now remains jurisdiction.

Stream-ripping, of course, has been at the top of the music industry’s piracy gripe list for a while now. And the record companies have successfully forced offline a number of sites that allowed users to turn temporary streams into permanent downloads. This was achieved by either suing them or – in many cases – simply threatening to sue them.

However, Tofig Kurbanov – operator of and – fought back when his websites were sued for contributory copyright infringement by the American labels.

In January last year a court in Florida dismissed the record industry’s lawsuit on jurisdiction grounds. That was on the basis that and were based in Russia and – because no sign-up was required to use the sites – they had no direct business relationships with any American citizens, even though Americans were known to use the stream-ripping services.

The labels then took the case to the Fourth Circuit appeals court. It was there that last week that Kurbanov’s people presented the classic argument in cases likes this: and have legitimate uses and illegitimate uses, and it’s out of Kurbanov’s control how people use his websites. His technology is basically just a digital tape recorder, and therefore he can’t be any more liable for copyright infringement that the makers of old-fashioned tape recorders were back in the day.

That argument has generally been rejected in past legal battles involving the makers of file-sharing and stream-ripping technologies. Though, the lower court ruling wasn’t actually about the credibility of that defence, given the decision was jurisdiction based. On that point, Kurbanov’s lawyer last week stressed that his client is based in Russia and – while his websites are available worldwide – he’s made no effort to specifically target his service at Americans.

The labels reckon that the court in Florida set a dangerous precedent by deciding it didn’t have jurisdiction over a website that is accessible in America and used by Americans to infringe American copyrights. Just because a website’s actual base is abroad and no American users have formally registered with it should not be grounds for dismissing a copyright lawsuit.

Last week a lawyer for the labels also stressed that Kurbanov could have blocked American IP addresses from accessing his website and had chosen not to. And more than that, his websites had a registered ‘DMCA agent’ at the US Copyright Office, which is basically how you tell copyright owners where to send takedown notices as part of the American safe harbour process.

According to Torrentfreak, the labels’ lawyer said: “The only point … of that DMCA agent is to invoke the protections of the DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act”. Which is to say, to ensure the stream-ripping sites enjoyed safe harbour protection under US law. That means and “have literally invoked the protections of US law”. Which should be enough, the labels reckon, to say the sites are also subject to liabilities under US law.

Kurbanov’s lawyer countered that registering a DMCA agent for a website with the US Copyright Office did not, in fact, automatically mean that that site subjects itself to US law.

It remains to be seen how the Fourth Circuit now responds.