Music industry seeks to block stream-ripping services as part of piracy fight

Four sites gather targeted by the music industry attract tens of millions of users every month

Credit: Dreamstime

Major record labels are seeking to have Australian telcos block access to a collection of online ‘stream ripping’ services that between them generate hundreds of millions of pageviews every month.

Internal reports compiled by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reveal that the four sites that are in the crosshairs of the music labels collectively generate in the region of 200 million page impressions per month.

The group of music labels appeared in Federal Court today seeking to have major Australian Internet service providers (ISPs) block their customers from accessing the sites, which allow the audio of a YouTube video to be downloaded as an MP3 file or other audio format.

According to a 2018 public consumer insights report from the IFPI, stream-ripping has emerged as the most-popular form of online music copyright infringement.

The current court action has been coordinated by Music Rights Australia, with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), Sony Music Entertainment Australia, Universal Music Australia and Warner Music listed as applicants.

Optus, Telstra, TPG (including AAPT, iiNet and Internode), Vodafone and Foxtel will have to implement DNS-based blocking against a group of domains associated with the stream-ripping sites if the application is granted.

There are four sites in the labels’ crosshairs: Convert2mp3, 2conv, Flv2Mp3, and Flvto.

Convert2mp3 is based in Germany, while the other three sites are run by the same operator, who is based in the Russia Federation. The 2conv, Flv2Mp3, and Flvto sites are operated by Russian company named Perspectiva, the court heard.

No licence has been given by APRA to any person “to download for free from YouTube” or to the “owners or operator of YouTube” to provide such a download, or to the online locations or any other person to “use those online locations to copy or communicate the various works,” barrister Rob Clark, appearing for the applicants, told today’s hearing.

Clark read from 2conv’s description of its service: “‘We provide an online service that converts your videos’ – they’re not your videos! – ‘to mp3 and other formats from YouTube in just a couple of clicks.’”

2conv and its sister sites also offer downloadable desktop apps that have additional features, including the ability to cue multiple files for conversion. Using YouTube allows an individual to only watch a single video at a time, but the ability to cue and convert multiple files “clearly shows the purpose is for one to make use of the videos on YouTube to give one a music library,” Clark said.

2conv asserts that the service it provides is legal, the court heard. “That’s obviously not correct,” Clark said. He said that an “an average lay member of the public” may imagine that the service was legitimate in part because of that assertion: “I can already watch a video on YouTube, why couldn’t I go and download it?” He said that goes to the issue of “flagrancy” of the copyright infringement, which is a factor the court can consider when contemplating an application for a site block brought under Section 115a of the Copyright Act.

The site’s terms of use require a user to “affirm, represent and warrant” that he or she owns or otherwise has “the necessary licenses, permissions, rights or consents to use and authorize us to use all trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets or other proprietary rights”.

“We say that that’s a meaningless warranty,” Clark said. “The owners of this website know very well that, given they’re telling people to copy URLs from the YouTube website, those people don’t have any licences, permissions and so on to go about downloading those videos.” Instead the terms of use are a “window dressing” exercise.

The other two Perspectiva sites have similar terms of service.

Convert2mp3 includes an integrated search function that allows a user to merely search for a video that they wish to download the audio from, the court heard. As with the 2conv group of sites, the German-based service asserts that it is legal, although in its terms of service says that a user must have the rights to the content they are downloading.

“It’s difficult to conceive of any use of this service that would not infringe,” Clark said.

The applicants in the case argue that the four sites either have as their primary purpose or as their primary effect the infringement of copyright.

Prior to legislation being passed last year, an online location targeted by a site-blocking injunction was required to have the “primary purpose” of infringing or facilitating copyright infringement. However, the recent changes to the law allow an online service to also be targeted if it has the “primary effect” of infringing or facilitating copyright infringement.

When it introduced the legislation, the government said the change meant that copyright owners would be able to target a broader range of services that facilitate piracy (for example so-called ‘cyber lockers’ that allow file sharing).

In order to obtain a site-blocking injunction, other criteria must also be met -- only overseas-based sites can be blocked, for example. The 2018 legislation also made a number of other significant changes, including allowing rights holders to seek to force search engines to remove a site from their listings, though no-one has employed that provision yet.

The are two other anti-piracy actions currently before the federal court. One is brought by TV channel distributors and seeks to block online services associated with the Reelplay IPTV set-top box. The other is brought by a group of movie studios and seeks to block some 79 online services allegedly linked to piracy.

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Tags copyrightmusicpiracycopyright infringementsite blocking lawsAustralasian Performing Right Association

More about AAPTAustraliaFoxtelInternational Federation of the Phonographic IndustryInternodeOptusSonySony Music EntertainmentUniversal Music AustraliaVodafone

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