YouTube Ripping, a Copyright Wildfire

By Annie Dike, Esq.

Is everything on the internet free? Should it be? Once digitized and uploaded, art can go viral, which as a content creator, you might think is a good thing. For artists and copyright holders, however, this can mean endless use of copyrighted material without proper permission and seemingly no way to stop the spread.

Trying to stop the use of viral copyrighted material without permission is like trying to chase a wildfire with a seltzer bottle.
 
It’s like trying to chase a wildfire with a seltzer bottle. So, what’s the point? With its recent, massive copyright infringement suit against YouTube-mp3, it appears the recording industry is trying to once and for all douse the improper ripping of YouTube music videos. In today’s very viral age, however, it is likely the copyright wildfires will continue to spread.

Going Viral
“Go viral.” What exactly does that mean? The Urban Dictionary defines it as an image, video, or link that spreads rapidly “through a population” by being shared. Often the video is of a kitten, rolling over and sneezing. While it is sometimes shocking the type of mindless content that will ignite the masses (meaning the millions!), this “viral” trend is actually very new in the media age. Imagine if you told a recording artist from the 70’s his record “went viral.” He might think his masterpiece had tanked. It’s not clear, even in today’s age, whether “going viral” is actually a good thing.

It's not clear, even in today's age, whether"going viral" is actually a good thing.

YouTube Statistics
Since the birth of the music video age with MTV, most recording artists have produced a corresponding music video accompanying their most popular songs. Often, the contemplation and budget that goes into the video far exceeds the song itself. As we all know, people don’t really watch TV these days, so where is the best place to host your videos? YouTube of course.

It is actually worthwhile to take a quick moment to soak in YouTube’s impressive stats. Try to guess how many hours of video users were uploading to YouTube as early as 2007? Six hours of video every minute. After hearing that statistic, how many hours of video do you think users were uploading in 2015? 400 million hours every minute. That’s 45,000 years’ worth of video every single minute.

You might think that no one has time to watch all of that. They do. And they are. YouTube boasts over one billion reported users watching hundreds of millions of hours of video every day. Meaning, YouTube is definitely the platform where recording artists want their flashy, eye-popping, hopefully viral-worthy, videos to be played. YouTube welcomes them. YouTube wants them. This is exactly why YouTube spent millions building a highly-effective copyright infringement prevention system designed to thwart all use of copyright without permission.

But, like fire, users have snaked around and found fuel through another source—YouTube ripping sites—where, within seconds and at no cost, the audio track can be ripped from the YouTube video and converted to a downloadable MP3, in violation of YouTube’s terms of service.

In 2015, YouTube users uploaded an average of 400 million hours of video every minute.

Over one billion Youtube users watch hundreds of millions of hours of video every day.

YouTube spent millions building a highly-effective copyright infringement prevention system designed to thwart all use of copyright without permission.

YouTube-mp3 is reported the world’s largest stream-ripping website. The plaintiffs claim the site has millions of users and is responsible for 40% of the total global copyright infringement.

Copyright Infringement
Hence the recent, massive lawsuit the Recording Industry Association of America (along with fourteen other named plaintiffs, including Warner Bros. Records, Sony Music Entertainment, and more) filed against YouTube-mp3, reportedly the world’s largest stream-ripping website. The plaintiffs claim the site has millions of users and is responsible for 40% of the total global copyright infringement arising from ripped YouTube videos.  YouTube-mp3 is also pulling in substantial revenue from its website traffic through various advertising platforms. Per federal copyright regulations, the plaintiffs are seeking $150,000 per infringed work and $2,500 for each act of copyright infringement.

The Fate of Ripping Websites
While implementation of such fines, as well as a grant of the plaintiffs’ requested permanent injunction, would easily shut YouTube-mp3 down, there are many other ripping sites now operating on the internet. A quick Google search of “How to download YouTube videos” will pull up several sites. With each one the recording industry is able to shut down, it is likely another will pop up.

Today’s highly-viral age creates an interesting dichotomy between the desire for content to be shared while simultaneously maintaining enforcement of proper licenses and royalty agreements. As a result, copyright infringement litigation has grown complex and techno-savvy experts are more frequently needed to dissect the copyright licenses that are granted, conditioned, or violated in a matter of three clicks.

This trend extends not only to audio tracks and albums, but any media generated and shared on the internet. If you have clients creating and uploading content (videos, diagrams, schematics, etc.), copyright permissions will always be a concern, requiring smartly-crafted clickable Terms of Service, implementation of copyright infringement prevention systems as well as on-going efforts to shut down work-arounds like YouTube ripping. Everything on the internet continues to be shared, converted and downloaded more freely. We’re looking forward to monitoring the state of copyright infringement cases that will shape the future of online content sharing.

On the digital copyright front, what fires have you been fighting?

Annie Dike, Esq.

Annie Dike, Esq.

As a former trial and litigation attorney, Annie Dike has a keen eye for expert evidentiary issues and a clear voice for practical solutions.  Annie is a published author of both fiction, non-fiction, and a comprehensive legal practitioner's guide to hourly billing published by LexisNexis. Annie graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law cum laude.  While in law school, she served as Vice President of both the Bench and Bar Legal Honor Society and the Farrah Law Society and was a member of the Alabama Trial Advocacy Competition Team as well as Lead Articles Editor of The Journal of the Legal Profession.  Ms. Dike has published articles in The Alabama Lawyer and DRI MedLaw Update and has spoken on numerous legal issues at various conferences nationwide.

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