Music studios have gained the upper hand in their legal battle with a "stream ripping" service known as YouTube-MP3, which allowed people to obtain pirated versions of songs simply by pasting a YouTube link into a website.
In a proposed settlement filed on September 1 in federal court in Los Angeles, the Germany-based website agrees to suspend the service and acknowledged is engaged in a variety of copyright infractions.
The studios, including Sony and Warner Bros, sued YouTube-MP3 (which is not related to YouTube) in 2016, accusing it of violating the copyrights they hold in the recordings of popular artists like Bruno Mars, Kesha, and Beyonce.
According to the studios, the stream-ripping service profited by showing advertisements while allowing consumers to help themselves to pirated versions of popular songs.
The legal fight is significant because "stream-ripping" has replaced peer-to-peer services like Napster as a major source of piracy. As the Financial Times reported last year:
Almost half of 16 to 24-year-olds now use so-called “stream ripping” software to copy streamed music illegally, according to the IFPI, which represents the global recording industry. Stream ripping has surpassed illegal downloading from file-sharing sites as the most popular form of music piracy, the organisation said.
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The legal fight against stream-ripping services come at a time when YouTube has become an important partner for the music industry, offerings artists a way to distribute their music while taking a cut of the advertising revenue (YouTube also has a paid subscription service). Pirate sites like YouTube-MP3, however, undercut that equation by siphoning off the money.
Currently, the YouTube-MP3 website, which is run by a German man named Philip Matesanz is still up and running but displays a message to North American users that says "sorry, this service is not available from your jurisdiction." It's unclear if the ripping service still works in other countries.
The legal settlement, which was first spotted by Torrent Freak, describes an arrangement in which the operators of YouTube-MP3 agree to a permanent worldwide injunction and to refrain from working on other stream-stripping services in the future. The settlement must receive approval from a judge before it is legally binding.
While the settlement is a victory for the music industry, the record labels are likely to confront a familiar "whack-a-mole" problem in which other stream-ripping services emerge to take the place of YouTube-MP3.