14 February 2022CopyrightAlex Baldwin

Russian ‘stream-ripper’ ordered to pay Warner, Sony, UMG $83m

A Virginia district court has awarded several record labels, including Warner Records, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings and others $82.9 million in statutory damages in a revived lawsuit against two YouTube-ripping music piracy sites.

The record companies sued the Russian owner of FLVTO.BIZ and 2CONV.COM in 2018, claiming that the two websites which “quickly and seamlessly” captured audio from YouTube videos and converted them into audio tracks, infringed the labels copyright.

This process, known as “stream-ripping”, is now the dominant form of music piracy, with nearly half of all internet users between the ages of 16 and 24 “regularly” engaging in stream-ripping, the defendants claimed.

In October 2021, the Virginia court granted a default judgment in favour of the record labels, ruling that they are entitled to statutory damages, attorneys fees and injunctive relief.

In an order handed down on February 10, district judge Claude Hilton found no evidence that the court’s ruling was erroneous, nor contrary to law, giving the final okay to the default judgment.

The site owner will be barred from infringing any of the defendants copyrighted works and must permanently delete and destroy all electronic copies of the copyrighted works.

Fighting back

Rather than ignore the lawsuit or take down the website, the owner initially argued that the record labels had no jurisdiction over the two websites. The Virginia court initially agreed and threw out the copyright infringement case against the owner.

Citing precedent in a 2001 Federal Circuit decision in ALS Scan v Remarq Communities, the court reiterated that “personal jurisdiction requires purposeful targeting of a forum with manifest intent to engage in business there”.

Although both websites were found to “interact” with users in Virginia by allowing them to download files, it was not sufficient enough reason to merit personal jurisdiction.

However, the case was then reinstated on appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The owner attempted to petition the appeal to the US Supreme Court but it declined to hear the case.

Deadlocked defence

The case then returned to the Virginia court, where proceedings hit an impasse after the site owner refused to hand over server logs in discovery, which would tell the court what the website users were pirating and where they were based.

This led his own counsel to seek withdrawal from the case, citing their “frustration at the owner’s failure to fully cooperate in the discovery process”.

However, the Virginia court said that the owner’s conduct was not so egregious as to require the withdrawal of his counsel.

However, this cleared the way for the record label to request a default judgment which was granted in October 2021.

Shortly thereafter, US Magistrates Judge Theresa Buchanan recommended that the court grant the record labels request for damages injunctive action and attorneys fees and costs in December, saying that the labels were entitled to the more than $82 million that they had demanded.

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