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A Virginia District Court has ordered the Russian operator of two popular YouTube rippers to keep extensive logs of user activity and hand these over to the major record labels. The order was requested by the labels, which argue that FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com facilitate massive copyright infringement in the United States and abroad.
The major record labels believe that YouTube rippers are the most significant piracy threat on the Internet.
These sites, which can be used for a variety of purposes, are used by some to convert free YouTube videos into MP3s.
FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com Lawsuit
Three years ago a group of prominent music companies took two of the largest YouTube rippers to court. The labels, including Universal, Warner Bros, and Sony, accused FLVTO.biz, 2conv.com and their Russian operator Tofig Kurbanov of facilitating copyright infringement.
While many foreign site operators choose not to fight back, Kurbanov did. With help from a seasoned legal team he filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that US courts don’t have jurisdiction over a Russian site operator who conducts his business from another continent.
Initially, the district court agreed with this defense, dismissing the case. However, the record labels successfully appealed and, after Kurbanov’s petition at the Supreme Court was denied, the case is now back at a Virginia district court where it proceeds on the merits.
Over recent weeks, both parties have used the discovery process to gather relevant evidence. The music companies requested all sorts of information from Mr. Kurbanov, including download statistics and location data, but soon learned that the sites only keep minimal logs.
The site operator informed the labels that he simply has nothing to share. The requested data do not exist, he replied, noting that it would be ‘unduly burdensome’ to ‘create or produce’ logs.
The labels clearly disagreed and noted that Mr. Kurbanov could enable logging on these servers. As such, they went to court, requesting an order that requires the sites to preserve and share data they deem important.
“The problem is that Defendant has configured his server software to turn the logging function off — thus, continually overwriting important data that Plaintiffs explicitly requested in discovery,” the labels wrote.
After reviewing the arguments from both sides, US District Court Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan now sides with the music companies. The motion to compel is granted which means that the YouTube rippers must preserve and share server logs.
Identifying User Locations
The order is disappointing news for the operator of the YouTube rippers and may also be a concern for some of the site’s users. Looking at the paperwork in detail, however, there is no indication that the labels are planning to go after individual users.
Mr. Kurbanov opposed the request by arguing, among other things, that logging IP-addresses would put user privacy at risk. However, in response, the labels noted that redacting this information is an option.
“Defendant’s only purported privacy concern relates to IP addresses; redactions, combined with identification of the user’s geographical location, can readily address that concern,” they wrote.
The labels specifically request the location of users down to the state level. This will help to identify where most users are coming from, but nothing more.
For all converted files, the labels want to receive “documents concerning each subsequent use, copying, storage, distribution, or other disposition of the audio file, including the date and time of download of the audio file and the geographic location (i.e., state) of the User.”
In addition, Mr. Kurbanov is required to produce more general statistics such as the most frequently converted music video streams per month and year. The labels likely expect that their copyrighted works are on these lists.
The court order doesn’t make clear whether the data will be redacted or not. It simply refers to “specific rulings and instructions” that were discussed during the court hearing.
This isn’t the first time that an alleged ‘pirate’ site has been ordered to keep extensive logs. The same happened to the now-defunct torrent site TorrentSpy.com, which decided to close its doors in the US soon after.
Whether the YouTube rippers have anything planned in response is unknown. TorrentFreak reached out to Mr. Kurbanov’s legal team asking for a comment on the ruling but, at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back.
A copy of Judge Buchanan’s order is available here (pdf). The record label’s request, which includes the requests for production, can be found here (pdf)
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.