The major record labels don’t want the public to download music from YouTube, which is common practice for millions of people.
To stop this, the music industry titans deployed a variety of legal tactics around the world. They obtained site-blocking orders, for example, and have taken on stream-ripping sites such as 2Conv and Yout.com directly in court.
Youtube-dl Takedown Battle
In late 2020, the open-source software youtube-dl was added to the list of targets. The tool is used by many stream-ripping sites and was freely available on GitHub. The RIAA asked the developer platform to take youtube-dl offline, arguing that it violates the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision.
GitHub initially complied with the takedown request but after public outrage and involvement from digital rights groups including the EFF, the decision was eventually reversed. GitHub went on to put $1 million into a takedown defense fund.
While this series of events represented a setback, the record labels didn’t back off. Instead, they set their sights on youtube-dl’s website hosting provider Uberspace.
The RIAA had already sent cease-and-desist orders to the hosting company in 2020, before it approached GitHub. Uberspace didn’t take any action at the time; the youtube-dl website it hosted was not the host of the youtube-dl software. The website carried links to the software and that was hosted elsewhere.
Labels Sue Uberspace in Germany
Last year, Sony Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music escalated the matter by taking it to court in Germany. Their complaint alleged that youtube-dl aids copyright infringement by circumventing YouTube’s technical protection measures.
The hosting company clearly disagreed and said that an overbroad lawsuit threatened freedom of information. In its defense, the company was assisted by the German Society for Civil Rights (GFF), which pointed out that youtube-dl has plenty of legal uses.
“The youtube-dl software can be used for countless purposes. Journalists, scientists, law enforcement agencies and human rights organizations regularly use youtube-dl, for example for the purpose of documentation and preservation of evidence.
“Amnesty International explicitly recommends the use of youtube-dl to document human rights violations on the Internet, as platforms such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter remove these videos,” the defense added.
Court Sides With Music Companies
After hearing both sides, the district court of Hamburg ruled on the matter last week, handing a clear win to the music companies. The verdict wasn’t immediately made available to the public but the music companies were quick to claim the win in a press release, stating that Uberspace must take youtube-dl’s website offline.
According to Frances Moore, CEO of the global music industry group IFPI, the court’s decision once again confirms that stream-ripping software is illegal.
“YouTube-DL’s services have enabled users to stream rip and download copyrighted music without paying. The Hamburg Regional Court’s decision builds on a precedent already set in Germany and underscores once again that hosting stream-ripping software of this type is illegal.
“We continue to work globally to address the problem of stream ripping, which is draining revenue from those who invest in and create music,” Moore adds.
Interestingly, the open source youtube-dl code remains available on the Microsoft-owned developer platform GitHub. Whether the music companies have any plans to target the problem at this source is unknown.
‘Concerning Blanket Ban’
Uberspace’s legal representative GFF informs TorrentFreak that the decision doesn’t come as a total surprise since the court already declared YouTube’s “rolling cipher” to be an effective technical protection measure in an earlier case.
That said, the defense believes that the order, which effectively amounts to a blanket ban on youtube-dl, failed to take the software’s potentially legitimate uses into account.
“The court did not take into account that youtube-dl also supports the download of audiovisual content from more than 1000 other websites and that is an essential tool for legal purposes such as preservation of evidence, citations in journalistic productions or artistic remixes and mash-ups,” GFF says, commenting on the verdict.
In addition, GFF believes that the court’s decision severely restricts the hosting provider’s freedom to operate.
“If web hosts have to delete an entire website on demand of the rightsholders even in complex situations with no legal precedent, this poses a threat to the business model of web hosts and ultimately to the free flow of information on the Internet.”
Uberspace Will Appeal
The recent ruling isn’t the end of the legal battle just yet. Uberspace informs TorrentFreak that it will appeal the judgment and GFF is confident that the hosting provider will ultimately prevail.
GFF intends to release a full statement to the press tomorrow and Uberspace reserves further comment until then. The press release will likely include a redacted copy of the court order and we will update this article accordingly when that’s available.
At the time of writing, the youtube-dl website is still online as well. The site expressly thanks Uberspace for its continued support, a message that’s likely to be updated if the order is enforced.