The Continuing Fight for Music Copyright Protection
Since the introduction of Napster and Limewire, the music industry has been in a constant battle to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music. Services like iTunes and Spotify, a commercial music service that has paid record companies for the right to stream their music to users, have taken the place of illegal music sharing software as a viable alternative to- shudder- actually buying CDs. However, there still exists one increasingly common method of acquiring music without pay- MP3 ripping. The irony is that as of right now, this method is not technically illegal.
How does it work? Essentially, MP3 ripping occurs on free websites, where the website takes the audio file from steaming services (most often YouTube) and in a matter of minutes packages a mp3 formatted file that can then be downloaded for use. This file will now act like any mp3, and can be played in iTunes, on phones/iPod’s, etc. I’ll avoid spelling out the process any further for fear of actually advocating the practice- but as I mentioned, this process remains a legal loophole that has not yet been ruled illegal.
For over a year. Google (who now owns Youtube), has been threatening these sites with legal action, sending cease and desist letters in an attempt to stop the process from continuing. Within the last week, one of the largest websites dedicated to this practice lost in German court in its battle with Google. And yet, the website is still up and running- and is legally allowed to do so. How is that so?
Google won the lawsuit because there was evidence that the site was not just simply converting URLs of streaming video, as they had always claimed. Instead, in many cases, once a single user had put through a video for conversion to an MP3, that audio was being stored on the website’s servers. From that point forward, if anyone inserted that web address for the same audio stream, no conversion occurred. Instead, that person was simply given an mp3 download of the audio that had already been converted. While this may seem like a mere technicality, in the eyes of the law, the distinction is more significant. Once the files were stored on the website and then a copy downloaded by the next user that came along, the site was essentially acting as a music download sharing service, something that certainly sounds like (and is in fact akin to) the illegal services of the aforementioned Napster or Limewire.
Unfortunately, this victory was not as significant for copyright holders as may first appear. The website is legally bound to no longer store mp3s of audio that it converts. However, the ruling has no impact on the converting of audio from YouTube sites in general. With a wink and a smile, these ‘mp3 ripping’ sites will continue to offer audio converters, legally, all while reaping the significant advertising revenue that comes from running these sites. The music industry may have won the battle, but the war over music copyright protection in the Internet age continues.