There’s a Hidden ‘Proxy War’ Between YouTube and Stream Rippers

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Every day millions of people use YouTube rippers, tools that are often used to download music for free. Music industry insiders are sounding the alarm about this piracy threat but YouTube itself is not very vocal about the issue. Behind the scenes, however, YouTube is fighting an ongoing battle to block these sites, one that they're not winning just yet.

youtube sad errorIt’s no secret that the music industry sees stream-ripping as today’s single biggest piracy threat.

While there are sites and services covering many platforms, those that allow the public to download music tracks from YouTube are particularly problematic.

Over the past several years, major music labels have taken legal action against several key players. YouTube-MP3 was shut down after a legal battle while 2Conv and FLVto are currently being sued. At the same time, rightsholders launched an active campaign to remove these sites from Google’s search results.

Despite these enforcement actions, stream-rippers continue to serve millions of users today. In fact, they are actively fighting back behind the scenes.

TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of several YouTube-ripping sites. While he prefers to keep his identity private, at least from the public, he shared some interesting background on how stream-rippers are threatened, and how they’re responding.

We’ll start with the enforcement efforts YouTube itself takes. While music industry insiders are most vocal about their anti-piracy actions, YouTube isn’t sitting still either.

Warnings From YouTube’s Legal Team

YouTube’s legal team approaches operators of stream-ripping sites directly with cease and desist notices. We have seen several of these emails, and the site owner we spoke to recently received one as well.

The email doesn’t come with any concrete legal threats but it urges the recipient to comply with YouTube’s Terms of Services and Developer Policies, which prohibit unauthorized downloading.

“If applicable, you must also delete any Content including data that you may have gathered in violation of our terms, policies, and applicable laws,” the email notes, granting operators seven days to comply.

These requests are not new. YouTube has been sending out similar messages for years. In some cases this is effective, as smaller sites are easily threatened and swiftly throw in the towel, but others continue regardless.

As far as we know YouTube doesn’t take any further action against sites that ignore their warning. At least, not in court. But there is more. Since last year, the streaming service has silently intensified its countermeasures against stream-rippers.

YouTube’s IP-address Blocking

Last summer, the site started taking active and aggressive countermeasures to block IP-addresses that are frequently used by stream-ripping services to download content. Our source describes these blocks as ‘purges’.

“There are 2 types of ‘purges’. The first one is ongoing; if YouTube notices too many requests coming from a single IP address – it blocks that IP. The second type is the ‘grand purge’ which sometimes happens daily, and sometimes two or three times a week,” he says.

These purges caused several sites to shut down but others have adapted. They started rotating through thousands of proxies in order to evade YouTube’s countermeasures. Old IP-addresses are discarded and swiftly changed for new ones.

Thousands of Proxies

“Back in the day, well, roughly a year ago, you could run any amount of requests through a single IP. Now it’s so much more complicated. We use up to 1,000 proxies per week, so it’s not an easy game,” our source says.

YouTube has never elaborated on these actions in public but with hundreds if not thousands of active stream-ripping sites, it seems that there’s a massive blocking effort going on behind the scenes.

In addition to these purges, Google also removes URLs from search results when they are reported by copyright holders, as we alluded to earlier. This is a frustrating experience for bigger site operators, who have to switch to fresh URLs frequently.

Search Delisting as an Advantage

However, these removals also provide an opportunity for smaller players, including our source. In fact, some are set up specifically to anticipate delistings of bigger players.

“I have over a hundred sites and most of them deal with YouTube MP3 & MP4 conversions. 90% of them have no traffic and exist only to take over someone else’s traffic, in case they are shut down or delisted,” he says.

Running more sites is the normal practice now, apparently. And when some of our source’s sites started to do well, with over 100,000 visitors per day, others began to copy them, just in case they are delisted too.

“At some point, we figured with all the delistings and threats it’s best to have many sites. Some sites will do well, others won’t. I’m also making imitators of my own sites just to make sure others’ imitators don’t start stealing my traffic,” our source says.

The takedown requests and delistings continue but by now most sites are prepared for them. The operator we spoke with keeps a close eye on incoming notices, which are published in the Lumen Database. As it may take a few days before these are processed, it’s possible to swiftly switch to new URLs to prevent any traffic loss.

Limited Impact

Overall, our source doesn’t believe that search result removals have a major impact. While some sites may have lost traffic, others have gained new visitors. The number of people searching for YouTube rippers didn’t decrease, after all.

“I don’t think the delisting requests have had an impact on the overall use of MP3 rippers. Maybe for a few weeks in the very beginning perhaps, when a big site would experience delisting for the first time and spend a few days figuring out what was happening. And even then it would only affect these certain delisted sites.

“Google would always be there to help those who accessed these sites through the search engine with a list of fresh results,” our source adds.

All in all, it’s intriguing to see how stream-rippers have adapted to the countermeasures and how some are even profiting from it. While YouTube does take action, they have yet to find a good solution to limit the problem.

We have reached out to YouTube/Google to ask for more details on its enforcement efforts but the company hasn’t responded yet. Perhaps the company prefers to remain quiet for now, and continue their proxy war in the background.


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