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Indian Court Cracks Down On Stream-Ripping By ‘Rogue Websites’

The High Court of Delhi orders internet service providers to block access to 20 sites that allowed illegal downloading of primarily YouTube content.

A court in India has ordered internet service providers to block access to 20 sites that were used to illegally download audio and video streams in India from platforms like YouTube, the IFPI says.

The civil ruling, published in the High Court of Delhi on Jan. 12, was the first such action in India to tackle the practice of stream-ripping, one of the country’s most rampant forms of piracy. The 20 blocked sites collectively received nearly half a billion visits last year from users based in India, according to the IFPI, which coordinated the action with the Indian Music Industry (IMI) on behalf of Sony Music India, Universal Music India and Warner Music India.

The labels told the court that the “rogue websites” were providing services in which copyrighted content on various platforms, primarily YouTube, could be downloaded in mp3 or mp4 format by copying the link in the space provided in the websites. Because the details of the websites’ real administrators are masked, the plaintiffs’ lawyer argued it would be impossible for them to pursue the websites in separate proceedings regarding individual copyrighted content.

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Justice C Hari Shankar, who wrote the order, directed India’s government to issue a notification calling upon the various Internet service providers to block access to the websites in India. (The court order reviewed by Billboard says there are 18 defendants, but IFPI says the decision targets 20 infringing websites and more than 50 urls.)

In India, websites are regularly blocked on the basis of copyright infringement using Section 69A of the Information and Technology Act 2000 (as amended in 2008), Information Technology Rules 2009 and civil procedure rules, the IFPI tells Billboard.

“We welcome this decision and the strong message it sends to operators of stream ripping sites, wherever they may be based, that we are prepared to take the appropriate action against them,” Frances Moore, IFPI’s chief executive, says in a press release.

“Given that it’s the first time a website blocking order has been granted against stream ripping websites, this precedent is an important step in the right direction for the Indian recorded music industry,” Blaise Fernandes, IMI’s president and CEO, says in the same release.

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Digital music has been leading the way in the rapid growth of India’s music market, which booked $219 million in recorded music revenues in 2021, up 20.3% from 2020. Streaming, which grew by 22.5% in 2021, now represents 87% of total trade value in the 17th-largest music market, according to IFPI’s Global Market Report. 

But the IFPI notes that a study last year found that India still has a rate of piracy more than twice that of most major music markets, with 73% of internet users using unlicensed or illegal methods to listen to music, compared to a global average of 30%. Intellectual property rights theft “is like a cancer,” Fernandes wrote in a 2020 op-ed. “You need both palliative care via social messaging, as well as chemotherapy via the Indian Penal Code or laws that keep up with the needs of India’s digital requirements.”

Beyond India, the recording industry has stepped up efforts to crack down on stream-ripping websites. Courts and authorities in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Ecuador, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Peru, Russia and Spain have all issued decisions over the last few years ordering service providers to block customers’ access to such websites, the IFPI says.

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U.S. music companies have also battled stream-rippers, who are often based outside the country. In a case brought by more than two dozen record labels, a U.S. magistrate judge in Alexandria, Va., recommended in December 2021 that the operator of two Russian stream-ripping sites, Tofig Kurbanov, pay $82.9 million in damages for circumventing YouTube’s anti-piracy measures and infringing copyrights of audio recordings.

Kurbanov’s piracy operation drew more than 300 million global users to the sites from October 2017 to September 2018 alone, the court said. (U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton accepted the $82.9 million recommendation last February. In March, Kurbanov told the court he would appeal the judgement.)

As the streaming market has grown globally, the IFPI has also helped coordinate court and police actions to shut down sites peddling fake streams in major recording markets like Brazil and Germany, which are artificially juicing the success of songs and albums.

In France, the fifth-largest music market, a study released this week by a French government organization found that one billion streams — or between 1% to 3% of all streams in the market — were fraudulent in 2021. The report, which analyzed data from Spotify, Deezer and Qobuz, notes that “the methods used by fraudsters are constantly evolving and improving,” and that “fraud seems to be getting easier and easier to commit.”