Over the years we have covered dozens of piracy-related lawsuits, mostly from United States courts.
In many of these cases, defendants are foreign sites or services which don’t put up much of a fight.
That’s not true for the copyright infringement lawsuit a group of major record labels, backed by the RIAA, brought against Tofig Kurbanov last year.
The Russian operator of YouTube rippers FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com fought back with a motion to dismiss. This request was granted last week. Judge Claude Hilton ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction over these types of sites if they are operated from abroad.
“As the Websites are semi-interactive, the interactions with the users are non-commercial, and there were no other acts by the Defendant that would demonstrate purposeful targeting, the Court finds that Defendant did not purposefully avail himself of the benefits and protections of either Virginia or the United States,” the Judge wrote.
The legal win is a modern-day David vs. Goliath story. The record labels, good for billions of dollars in annual revenue, were defeated by the Russian operator of the two stream-ripping sites.
However, this battle isn’t over just yet. In his memorandum opinion, Judge Milton stressed that the labels are not allowed to refile their case in another district court. They can appeal the dismissal though, which is exactly what they’ve just done.
In a filing submitted yesterday, the record labels announce that they are appealing the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Via this route, they hope to overturn the dismissal.
“The court got it wrong,” RIAA spokesperson Cara Duckworth commented to Billboard.
“Its decision represents a big step backward in the protection of American culture and the creators that fuel it. We look forward to laying out our arguments in the weeks ahead,” she added.
During the appeal, the court will consider the arguments from both sides once more.
The owner of the sites, Tofig Kurbanov, has hired a team of legal experts from and will continue to fight back. Kurbanov himself has never been to the United States and his sites don’t purposefully target either Virginia or the US.
Val Gurvits, one of the attorneys who represented the site operator, informs TorrentFreak that the defense already expected the RIAA labels to appeal.
“We’re not at all surprised by the RIAA decision to appeal – this opinion really struck a blow at their strategy of suing people in places where they’ve never even visited, assuming that they’ll get a quick default judgment before the court ever realizes that there wasn’t any jurisdiction to begin with.”
The attorney doesn’t believe that the record labels are going to succeed. The District Court made a thoughtful and well-reasoned decision and it’s going to be hard for them to overturn on appeal, he says.
If the fact that .com and .biz domains are administered by companies located in Virginia is enough to establish jurisdiction, as the labels argued, then millions of foreign companies could be easily sued in Virginia, without any further presence there.
“At the end of the day, our client is an individual who lives in Russia, who has never been to the United States, and who had no substantive connection to the United States,” Gurwitz says.
“If he could be subject to personal jurisdiction here, then there’s no reason that an American citizen couldn’t be subject to jurisdiction in China or Russia for typing out lines of code in his living room in Boston. That would be a dangerous path to travel – the District Court wisely declined to go down that path and we think the 4thCircuit will similarly decline,” he adds.
The record labels, assisted by the RIAA, hoped to resolve the matter quickly but it didn’t turn out that way. For now, it’s clear that the stream-rippers and their operator have won the first battle.
During the month to come it will become clear whether the dismissal will stand or not. If the record labels lose the appeal as well, they could also choose to file a lawsuit in Russia.