11 May 2021 by Dispute Resolution Alert

Stemming the riptide

Ricky Gervais quipped that piracy doesn’t kill music, boy bands do. But the truth is that piracy is depriving the artists who create the music of the fruits of their labour and is damaging the music industry.   

Stream-ripping” is a form of music piracy (that has been around for some time) where the pirate converts music videos by pasting the URL from, say YouTube or Spotify, into a stream-ripping site which then “rips” the video into an audio file. The audio file is then uploaded to a cyberlocker, which is an internet service similar to genuine cloud storage sites (such as Dropbox), but, unlike the usual cloud storage, users are able to upload and download commercial content to and from their servers free-of-charge.

Mr. Justice Miles of the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division in London handed down a landmark judgment in Capitol Records and others v British Telecommunications plc and others, as well as the related matter of Young Turks Recordings Ltd and others v British Telecommunications plc and others, ordering six of the United Kingdom’s primary internet service providers to block any of their internet using clients from accessing specific cyberlockers and stream-ripping websites.

Various recording labels, including the named plaintiffs in these matters as well as Warner Bros. Records, Sony Music Entertainment, and others, recognised that internet users were copying URLs of a music video of an artist posted on online video platforms, such as YouTube, pasting that URL onto stream-ripping websites, converting the music video into an audio file and then posting that audio file onto a cyberlocker site, enabling millions of users accessing the cyberlocker to download the audio file without paying anything either to the record label or the music artist.

Mr. Justice Miles held that the users of the cyberlocker site had infringed copyright by uploading and downloading content onto the site and that the operators of the cyberlocker had also infringed copyright as the cyberlocker had been deliberately structured to encourage users to upload illegal content. Stream-ripping was also held to be an infringement of copyright both in the operation of the stream-ripping service on the sites, and the enabling of a downloader application for users to access the music.

Because English decisions can potentially be relied on as authority in South Africa, particularly where we do not have developed law on the subject and because stream-ripping and cyberlockers have yet to enjoy the attention of our courts, the judgment of Mr. Justice Miles may still be of benefit to local artists.

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