Downloading audio and video is prohibited by YouTube’s terms of service but there are numerous ‘stream-ripping’ sites available on the web that do just that.
These services are a thorn in the side of music industry outfits, who see them as a major piracy threat. The operators and users of the stream-ripping tools disagree and point out that there are legal uses as well.
At the end of 2020, the operator of one of the largest stream-rippers took matters into his own hands. Instead of hiding in the shadows like some competitors, Yout.com owner Johnathan Nader sued the RIAA, asking the federal court in Connecticut to declare the service as non-infringing.
The case has been ongoing for more than a year now and Yout.com has filed two amended complaints, which addressed earlier shortcomings and refined the legal arguments. At the heart of the dispute is the question of whether Yout’s service violates the DMCA’s provision that prohibits the circumvention of technological protection measures (TPMs).
Yout.com argues that YouTube doesn’t have meaningful technical protection measures so there is nothing to circumvent. In just a few steps, anyone can download audio and video from the site without additional tools. This argument was reiterated last month when Yout responded to RIAA’s motion to dismiss the case.
RIAA Responds to ‘No TPM’ Claim
The RIAA sees things quite differently as it highlighted in a response filed at the court a few days ago. The music group points out that Yout repeats many of the arguments it previously made, which the RIAA characterizes as “wordplay”.
“[Yout]’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,” RIAA writes.
The music group specifically cites the DMCA which points out that a technological measure is considered a TPM if it, “in the ordinary course of its operation” requires a process or a treatment to access copyrighted video or audio.
Yout’s defense noted that people can go through a series of steps to acquire a “sequence of numbers” in the “Request URL” to then download audio video from YouTube themselves. A valid point, but the RIAA notes that this actually confirms that there are protection measures in place.
“[T]hose allegations actually prove that there is a TPM (rolling cipher or by any other name),” RIAA writes.
“In the ordinary course, a YouTube user does not obtain or interact with a signature value or Request URL, or reach a download button—ever. In the ordinary course, the user only sees the stream of a music video.”
No Cipher Needed
The RIAA stresses that, even though Yout disputes the “rolling cipher” terminology, the service still helps to bypass copyright protections. That people can also bypass these on their own through a web browser doesn’t matter.
The second part of the argument is that Yout circumvents these TPMs. The stream-ripper argued that it simply uses the publicly available code of YouTube’s website without disabling or voiding anything. However, the RIAA sees things in a different light.
In fact, the music group uses Yout’s own words to argue that it is indeed circumventing protection measures.
“Plaintiff pleads that it interacts with these TPMs by ‘modif[ying]’ the ‘range=’ numerical sequence. That the Yout service provides its users with an ‘automated’ way to avoid or bypass the TPMs to gain access to the file —including modifying a sequence of numbers in YouTube’s source code,— is textbook circumvention.”
Court Will Decide
The above makes it clear that both sides agree on most facts, but not on how these should be interpreted. It is now up to the court to decide which party has the best arguments. Needless to say, this decision is crucial to the future of Yout and many other stream-ripping services.
In its complaint Yout also argued that RIAA’s takedown notices defamed the service, which resulted in a loss of revenue. This could come into play later, but only if Yout’s activities are not violating the DMCA.
A copy of RIAA’s reply in support of its motion to dismiss Yout’s second amended complaint is available here (pdf)