The DMCA takedown process allows copyright holders to report infringing content and have it removed or taken down.
It is a powerful tool that takes millions of URLs and links offline every day. In most cases, this happens for a good reason, but some takedown efforts are more questionable.
Fraudsters have previously used false DMCA notices to target competitors. The strategy can be particularly effective when notices are sent to Google, as the search engine actively downranks domains that are frequently mentioned in takedown requests.
Notices sent by legitimate music industry groups such as the BPI and RIAA contain claims that YTMP3.nu violates the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. However, the YouTube-ripping service also views itself as a victim of bogus takedown notices sent by one or more competitors.
In an effort to curtail the abuse, earlier this year the site sent a cease and desist letter to Google, asking the search engine to begin verifying senders of DMCA notices. In addition, YTMP3.nu also asked for a litigation hold in anticipation of future legal action.
The letter didn’t prompt Google to launch an official verification procedure but the YouTube ripper did follow up on its legal threat, although Google itself isn’t a direct target.
Lawsuit Against DMCA Fraudsters
In response to a series of allegedly fraudulent notices, yesterday the operator of YTMP3.nu and Y2mate.nu filed a complaint at a federal court in California. The complaint alleges that the sites are being targeted by one or more competitors with the aim of disappearing the sites from search results.
YTMP3.nu and Y2mate.nu are operated by CreativeCode Ltd, a company incorporated in Anguilla, a small island in the Eastern Caribbean. With more than 40 million monthly visits, YTMP3 has a particularly large userbase that is monetized through advertising.
YouTube-ripping sites apparently operate in a competitive industry. In recent weeks, some unknown person or persons targeted the YTMP3.nu and Y2mate.nu domain names with takedown notices without proper cause, the complaint alleges. The defendants are not known by name yet and are referred to as ‘does’ for now.
“Starting on or about June 27, 2023, Defendants began to submit fraudulent DMCA notices to Google, falsely alleging that the Websites were infringing on copyrights held by Defendants and that the Websites implemented software that circumvented technologic barriers regarding copyright[sic],” the complaint reads
“This has caused Google to either delist or downgrade Plaintiff’s websites’ search results on its search engine, resulting in greatly reduced traffic to Plaintiff’s websites and causing Plaintiff significant damages.”
The complaint doesn’t specify what impact the notices had on revenues, but it notes that traffic to the sites reduced by approximately hundreds of thousands of clicks per day.
While both YouTube rippers have been targeted by legitimate rightsholders in the past, the defendants in this lawsuit clearly fall into a different category. Their notices often fail to list a copyrighted work or reference rather dubious copyright holders.
The complaint lists an example of a DMCA notice that was sent by “End Of YouTube Converter,” claiming to protect the Rick Astley track “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Mr. Astley’s hit song has taken many people by surprise over the years, but the rights to the song are not held by “End Of YouTube Converter”.
“It is clear that ‘End Of YouTube Converter’ does not own the copyright to ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ (and is not otherwise authorized by the actual rights holder). Instead, the copyrights for ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ are held by All Boys Music, Ltd., for the words and music, and BMG Music for the sound recording of Rick Astley’s performance on the 1987 record Whenever You Need Somebody,” the complaint continues.
Google is known to remove YouTube-ripper URLs in response to takedown notices sent by legitimate copyright holders, but this one doesn’t appear to fall into that category.
CreativeCode’s attorney previously sent cease-and-desist letters to multiple email addresses suspected of being behind these fraudulent takedowns. While the emails were not answered directly, a recipient ostensibly replied through yet another DMCA notice.
The takedown notice in question sent an indirect message that wasn’t too hard for the attorney to unravel.
“This Defendant, cheekily, but in complete disregard and violation of United States law, sent a DMCA Notice to Google referencing the YouTube page of Ceelo Green’s hit 2010 single, ‘F*** You!’,” the complaint explains.
“Clearly, the cease-and-desist letter struck its target, receiving an unsubtle and churlish response. This provides even further evidence that the DMCA Notices are fraudulent and meant for no other purpose than to harass.”
Trial and Damages
On top of their complaints concerning the bogus notices, the YouTube rippers further stress that they shouldn’t be classified as anti-circumvention tools under the DMCA. While that’s not needed to make a claim here, it suggests that CreativeCode also objects to notices from legitimate rightsholders.
The company sees its websites as content-neutral services. While music companies often complain about music downloaded through the sites, the YouTube rippers highlight a variety of non-infringing uses.
That said, this case is primarily targeted at competitors, not actual rightsholders. Through discovery, YTMP3.nu and Y2mate.nu hope to pinpoint and then name the perpetrators.
The complaint calls for a trial and accuses the defendants of violating the DMCA, Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage, and breaching California’s Unfair Competition Law. Through the lawsuit, the YouTube rippers hope to recoup at least $500,000 in damages.
A copy of the complaint filed on behalf of CreativeCode LTD at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is available here (pdf)