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Stuff I do: YouTube-mp3 and Spotify stories have kept the CMU website very busy this week

Published on Sunday 10 September 2017

Two stories have been generating a rush hour of traffic on the CMU website this week: the closure of YouTube-mp3.org and Spotify’s surprising defence in the latest mechanical royalties lawsuit in the US. Both are copyright stories.

THE YOUTUBE-MP3 STORY
YouTube-mp3.org was probably the world’s most popular stream-ripping site, via which you could turn temporary streams into permanent downloads.

Stream-ripping isn’t new, but it has now reached the top of the music industry’s piracy gripe list. Unless you count YouTube exploiting the copyright safe harbour as piracy – which some do – in which case stream-ripping is now second to top.

Both gripes involve YouTube in one way or another, even if the Google site wasn’t directly involved in YouTube-mp3.org. Though plenty in the music industry reckon Google could have done much more to stop the third party operation from ripping the audio of videos it was streaming.

Either way, last year the US record industry sued YouTube-mp3.org and its owner for copyright infringement, while the British record business threatened to do likewise if the site didn’t cease and desist within the UK. A year on YouTube-mp3.org has settled the American lawsuit by shutting itself down.

News of the impending shutdown sparked lots of chatter on tech forums across the internet earlier in the week – something we could track quite easily because many of them were linking through to our reporting on the story.

Some of those chattering argued that YouTube-mp3.org shouldn’t be held liable for copyright infringement because it didn’t actually do any illegal copying or host any illegally copied files. Now, whether or not YouTube-mp3.org itself did any actual copying of audio without licence would depend on the precise mechanics of how the service worked.

Though even if it didn’t, there would still be a strong argument for holding YouTube-mp3.org liable for so called ‘contributory’ or ‘authorising’ infringement. That’s the thing that tripped up Napster, Grokster, Kazaa, LimeWire and The Pirate Bay, among others. And the thing I wrote my dissertation about when doing that law degree thing back in the 2000s.

Contributory or authorising infringement says that if you facilitate the infringement of others, you too could be held liable for that infringement. There are limitations on liability of this kind, but in the main the providers of file-sharing technologies have been found very liable indeed in landmark cases in various jurisdictions. Which, I assume, is why YouTube-mp3.org decided to give up rather than go to court.

Here is our report of YouTube-mp3.org’s out of court settlement earlier this week and the confirmation the site was now offline on Friday.

THE SPOTIFY STORY
The Spotify story also involves a debate over what constitutes a ‘copy’ in the digital domain. This is a long running story that we’ve been covering for quite some time in the CMU Daily, relating to the complexities of paying songwriters and publishers the royalties they are due when their songs are streamed.

The payment of song royalties – as opposed to recording royalties – is complex everywhere when it comes to streaming, though even more so in the US, partly because of music industry conventions, and partly because of the whims of American copyright law.

Our report on the latest development provides a story-so-far primer as well as an explanation of what happened earlier this month. And if you are really interested in the copyright side of the streaming business, well that’s what the ‘Dissecting The Digital Dollar’ report we produced for the UK Music Managers Forum was all about. You can download it here, plus look out for an updated version coming out very soon.

CMU INSIGHTS MASTERCLASSES
As well as writing about these stories, I’ll also be talking about them both in much more detail at our upcoming CMU Insights masterclasses. Our digital masterclass this month will explain the ins and outs of the Spotify dispute, plus these other developing music business news stories too. Meanwhile our piracy masterclass in November will tell you everything you need to know about stream-ripping.



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