Last week, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed a copyright infringement case brought by Universal Music, Sony Music and 10 other labels against the operator of Russian stream-ripper FLVTO.biz, ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction over the foreign site. But the recording industry isn’t done fighting yet.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is now appealing the decision to dismiss the case against defendant Tofig Kurbanov. “The court got it wrong,” says RIAA spokesperson Cara Duckworth. “Its decision represents a big step backward in the protection of American culture and the creators that fuel it. We look forward to laying out our arguments in the weeks ahead.”
Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against Kurbanov on Aug. 3, 2018, arguing that the stream-ripping site — which allows users to convert audio from videos on YouTube and other sources into MP3 files — is a vehicle for copyright infringement. FLVTO.biz received over 263 million visits between October 2017 and September 2018, according to court documents, with nearly 10 percent of site traffic coming from the United States. Because that included 500,000 visitors from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the record labels believed the court had jurisdiction in the case, arguing that FLVTO’s geo-targeted ads meant it was purposely targeting Virginia residents and others in the U.S.
But U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton disagreed, writing in his opinion that FLVTO and the similar stream-ripper 2conv.com, also operated by Kurbanov, are only “semi-interactive” with users. “As the websites are semi-interactive, the interactions with the users are non-commercial, and there were no other acts by the Defendant that would demonstrate purposeful targeting, the Court finds that the Defendant did not purposefully avail himself of the benefits and protections of either Virginia or the United States,” Judge Hilton said.
Hilton also declined to address Kurbanov’s request that the case be moved to California, claiming that the state would also lack jurisdiction in the case.
Plaintiffs in this case include Universal Music Group, Capitol, Warner Bros. Records, Atlantic, Elektra, Fueled by Ramen, Nonesuch, Sony Music, Sony Music Latin, Arista, LaFace and Zomba. If the court had ruled in the labels’ favor, the decision could have been used to intimidate other stream-rippers, including many operating overseas. But now, what the RIAA might have expected to be a slam dunk win could open a loophole for overseas stream-rippers, even if only on jurisdictional grounds.
A similar 2016 case, where several major labels sued stream-ripper YouTube-mp3.org for copyright violations, ended with the site agreeing to shut down.