The major record labels believe that YouTube rippers are the most significant piracy threat on the Internet.
These sites, which can be used for a variety of purposes, are used by some to convert free YouTube videos into MP3s.
The RIAA and several of its members have taken legal action to curb this threat. They previously sued YouTube-MP3, the world’s largest ripping site at the time, which resulted in the site shutting down in 2017.
FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com Lawsuit
A year later, the music industry hoped to achieve the same with FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com. The sites’ Russian owner Tofig Kurbanov was taken to court in the United States in 2018, accused of facilitating mass copyright infringement.
Kurbanov was convinced that his sites operate legally and fought back in court. However, after several setbacks, including a discovery order that required the YouTube rippers to log user data, the Russian operator decided to back out of the US court process.
Kurbanov’s failure to comply with the discovery order and his decision to step away from the US lawsuit cleared the path for the RIAA. And indeed, the music group was quick to request a default judgment, which was granted earlier this year.
The RIAA was pleased with this win but the final payoff had yet to be determined. In a follow-up filing, the music companies demanded more than $82 million in damages for copyright infringement and DMCA violations.
Kurbanov’s legal team opposed this massive damages request and argued that $200 damages per infringement would be sufficient if the court chose to award any. In addition, the defense argued to limit any blocking measures to the United States, instead of applying them worldwide.
$82 Million is Appropriate, Judge Recommends
Late last week Virginia Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan issued a report, recommending the court to grant RIAA’s requested damages award. After reviewing the positions from both parties, she concludes that Kurbanov is liable for copyright infringement and violating the DMCA by circumventing YouTube’s technical protection measures.
The RIAA listed 1,618 copyrights and argued that $50,000 per copyright infringement is appropriate. In addition, it asked for $1,250 per DMCA violation, bringing the total to $82,922,500.
Judge Buchanan concludes that these amounts are appropriate, given the music companies’ lost profits and advertising revenue, as well as the finding that the YouTube rippers willfully and repeatedly facilitated copyright infringement.
“Defendant’s Websites caused the Plaintiffs to lose profits and streaming revenue because of the enormous internet traffic to and use of the Websites’ stream-ripping functions,” Judge Buchanan writes, noting that FLVTO and 2Conv are two of the most popular stream-ripping platforms.
Kurbanov previously refused to provide all the financial details of the sites during discovery, so it’s impossible to precisely calculate how much revenue they generated. However, the Judge finds it reasonable to conclude that they generated significant profit.
The copyright infringement complaints were not new either. The sites in question have been blocked through court orders around the world and the RIAA sent several complaints prior to filing its lawsuit.
“Defendant has a storied history of infringement. Multiple courts have found that Defendant’s Websites are illegal for their stream-ripping functionality. Plaintiffs also sent infringement notices and cease-and-desist letters to Defendant, yet he has continued to infringe their copyrights,” Judge Buchanan writes.
Registered DMCA Agent
In his defense, Kurbanov argued that he doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of US law, as he’s a Russian citizen. However, Judge Buchanan doesn’t agree. The RIAA made it clear on several occasions that the site was infringing under US law. The stream-rippers themselves also cited US law on their websites and had a registered DMCA agent.
Finally, the Judge concludes that Kurbanov had “actual and constructive knowledge” that his activities are not permitted under US law.
“Defendant’s Websites explicitly encourage Users to download Plaintiffs’ copyrighted audio recordings for free. And Defendant has received actual notices from the RIAA, instructing him to disable from the infringing functions of the Websites, yet he continued,” Judge Buchanan writes.
In addition to the nearly $83 million in damages, the RIAA can also be compensated for attorneys’ fees and costs. On top of that, an injunction to stop the infringing activity going forward is appropriate too.
These recommendations have yet to be adopted by the court, which is expected to issue a final ruling in the near future. Before that happens, Mr. Kurbanov and his legal team have two weeks to object to the findings, which they likely will.
A copy of Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan’s Report and Recommendation regarding RIAA’s request for damages and a permanent injunction is available here (pdf)