The internet has radically transformed the way that people obtain information and share it with each other, affecting users’ basic social relationships and the way that they work, learn, research, and shop. The speed of internet connectivity picked up considerably with the introduction of broadband. As people adopted higher-speed, always-on connections, they became different internet users: They spent more time online, performed more activities, watched more videos, and listened to more music. As noted in a January 2014 survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet, Science & Tech division, “87% of American adults use the internet, up from 14% in 1995.”
Internet usage has also been skyrocketing worldwide, according to Internet World Stats: As of June 30, 2016, there were 3,611,375,813 global internet users. Although China ranked first in number of users, with India coming in second, the U.S. topped both countries in terms of internet penetration (88.6%); China was at 52.3%, and India was at 36.5%.
Individuals use the internet for locating information, networking and communication, working at home or telecommuting, shopping for or marketing materials, accessing social media, and, perhaps, most importantly, for entertainment, including listening to, downloading, or streaming music. Just as the launch of the Gutenberg printing press increased access to books beyond the upper class, the internet combined with broadband has once again leveled the playing field for access to all kinds of information and entertainment for all ages and social classes.
A Need for Copyright Education
The internet is not without its risks, however, particularly in upsetting the economics of the creative disciplines, especially music. This begs the question of whether the average individual has (at the very least) a basic understanding of copyright. The music industry and its artists have probably suffered the most from unauthorized usage in violation of copyrights.
According to MusicWatch, Inc., 57 million people in the U.S. acquire unlicensed music. IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), which represents the interests of the recording industry worldwide, recently published research claiming that half of those age 16 to 24 use “stream ripping” tools to obtain their music. (Stream ripping is the practice of downloading a file from a streaming service such as YouTube.) According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade organization that serves to protect the “creative and financial vitality of the major music companies,” “Stream ripping is the fastest growing form of music piracy globally and has now replaced other forms of downloading as the most prevalent form of online music piracy.”
What does the average teenager know about copyright? According to StageofLife.com, “63.5% of teenagers watch YouTube daily—with 34% watching multiple times per day.” Of those surveyed, when asked how aware they are of YouTube’s copyright laws, 54.95% answered “somewhat aware,” while 27.03% responded “not very aware at all.” Certainly, policy awareness and copyright infringement education at the teen level would be a big help in addressing illegal downloading and sharing among this age group.
Combating Stream Ripping
When he was a teenager, Philip Matesanz created a powerhouse stream ripping operation in his parents’ home: YouTube-mp3.org. Its monthly unique users number more than 60 million. Although the user does not pay for the stream ripping conducted on the site, monthly revenues from Google AdSense and AdWords are estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to representatives from RIAA.
To download a YouTube video, a user enters the URL at YouTube-mp3.org, which, as described in a recent lawsuit filed against it, then “circumvents the technological measures that YouTube has implemented to control access to content maintained on its site. …” YouTube-mp3.org automatically and seamlessly converts the URL to an MP3 audio file. Calling itself “the easiest online service for converting videos to mp3,” it is the largest YouTube-to-MP3 converter globally. Conversion times range between 3 and 4 minutes.
The music industry wants this blatant piracy to cease and desist. Because the notice and takedown procedure outlined by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) proved ineffectual, on Sept. 26, 2016, several recording companies filed suit in the U.S. District Court’s Central District of California against PMD Technologies d/b/a YouTube-mp3. Matesanz was cited with five counts of copyright infringement: direct copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, vicarious copyright infringement, inducement of copyright infringement, and circumvention of technological measures. The plaintiffs are most of the major players in the music industry: UMG Recordings, Inc.; Capitol Records, LLC; Warner Bros. Records, Inc.; Warner Music Latina, Inc.; Sony Music Entertainment; Sony Music Entertainment U.S. Latin, LLC; Arista Records, LLC; Atlantic Recording Corp.; Elektra Entertainment Group, Inc.; Fueled by Ramen, LLC; Kemosabe Records, LLC; LaFace Records, LLC; Nonesuch Records, Inc.; WEA International, Inc.; and Zomba Recording, LLC. Both IFPI and RIAA emphatically endorse the lawsuit.
Frances Moore, IFPI’s CEO, says, “This is a coordinated action to protect the rights of artists and labels from the blatant infringements of YouTube-mp3.org. … Music companies and digital services today offer fans more options than ever before to listen to music legally, when and where they want to do so—over hundreds of services with scores of millions of tracks—all while compensating artists and labels. Stream ripping sites should not be allowed to jeopardise this.”
Cary Sherman, RIAA’s chairman and CEO, says, “This site is raking in millions on the backs of artists, songwriters and labels. We are doing our part, but everyone in the music ecosystem who says they believe that artists should be compensated for their work has a role to play. It should not be so easy to engage in this activity in the first place, and no stream ripping site should appear at the top of any search result or app chart.”
In addition to requesting that YouTube-mp3.org be stopped permanently, the lawsuit also requests statutory damages of $150,000 per infringed work and $2,500 for each act of circumvention. This is no small sum. Exhibit A of the lawsuit lists 304 record labels and multiple well-known artists whose copyrights have been compromised by YouTube-mp3.org.
Updating the DMCA
Lawsuit aside, the suggestion has been made that perhaps it is time to modify the DMCA, particularly Section 512, which covers safe harbor and the notice and takedown process. After all, the DMCA was signed into law in 1998, well before today’s enormous upsurge in what the current technology enables users to accomplish easily and readily.
The safe harbor provision applies and protects a copyright owner when it has identified infringing materials compiled from its works by a website or service provider. The copyright owner must then send a notice of takedown to a named representative agent responsible for receiving these notices. It may seem as if it’s a relatively simple process, but the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported in March 2016 that “Google’s number of takedown notices has increased a billion percent since 2006. Google handles 75,000,000 Digital Millennium Copyright Act requests every month for search, according to Google’s latest transparency report. … That’s 2 million requests per day, up from a few dozen requests a year in 2008.”
YouTube uses the Content ID system, whereby copyright owners can “easily identify and manage their content on YouTube. Videos uploaded to YouTube are scanned against a database of files that have been submitted to us by content owners. Copyright owners get to decide what happens when content in a video on YouTube matches a work they own. When this happens, the video gets a Content ID claim.”
Once a copyright claim has been verified, YouTube will remove the offending material. However, under current law, the takedown notice applies to only the original content and Content ID. Another user may upload the same content, albeit without the original Content ID, thereby requiring yet another takedown notification from the copyright owner. Hence the outcry to modify the language in DMCA’s Section 512 from “notice and takedown” to “notice and stay down.”
Stephen Carlisle, copyright officer for Nova Southeastern University and an author on the topic of copyright law (as well as a former copyright attorney), is in favor of the language change, citing the amount of infringement notices received by Google (which owns YouTube). In a July 23, 2014, article for the university, he writes, “Adding to the already staggering amount of online infringement is the fact that many times infringing material gets taken down, only to reappear on the same site, sometimes only a matter of hours after it is removed. This problem has been compared to the carnival game of ‘whack-a-mole’ by copyright holders.”
Gretchen McCord, editor of the journal Copyright & New Media Law, believes otherwise: “It’s not at all clear to me that Section 512 needs to be ‘modified.’ As copyright law in general must do, Section 512 attempts to balance the rights of copyright owners with the rights of users of copyright-protected information. Although I agree that 512 is only partially successful from both perspectives, I have no reason to think that changing the law, at least at this moment in history, will improve the law. Indeed, I strongly believe that changing ‘notice and take down’ to ‘notice and stay down’—again, at least at this time—will throw that crucial balance completely off kilter and contravene the purpose of copyright law to encourage creation of new works and advance human knowledge.”
Regardless of the future of the DMCA’s language, it is abundantly clear that YouTube-mp3.org is committing copyright infringement on a large scale and reaping major dollars as a result. DMCA takedown notices, regardless of any suggested change in language, would not help in this instance given the enormity of the infringement and the technological bypass used to conduct the infringement. Hopefully, the court will find YouTube-mp3.org in violation of copyright law and ban AdWords and AdSense from serving advertisements on its website. In this instance, it should go beyond “takedown” to “stay down” and make YouTube-mp3.org cease all operations.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Information Today as “Don't Rip Off YouTube.”