It may not get as much publicity as the ‘value gap’ in the music industry’s debates over YouTube, but ‘stream-ripping’ is a growing headache for the parts of the industry focused on tackling piracy.
Apps and websites that help people rip YouTube or SoundCloud streams into MP3s have been increasing in popularity over the last couple of years, particularly amongst younger internet users.
YouTube isn’t just standing by and watching this happen, however. An insight into its strategy comes from TorrentFreak, which has published a letter sent by YouTube’s legal team to stream-ripping website TubeNinja.
“It appears from your website and other marketing materials that TubeNinja is designed to allow users to download content from YouTube,” claimed the letter. “We need to ask you to stop offering that functionality.”
YouTube argues that its terms of service prohibit downloading any video that isn’t accompanied by a ‘download’ link, and also that its API terms of service bar external developers from helping people to rip videos in this way.
In response, TubeNinja is arguing that – and yes, there’s an irony here – it is not responsible for any copyright infringement by its visitors. “Our own ToS clearly states that the user is responsible for the legitimacy of the content they use our service for,” said its founder.
Any chortling from rightsholders at YouTube coming up against this particular line of argument may be balanced out by concern at the stream-ripping phenomenon.
A recent report from content-protection firm Muso claimed that YouTube stream-ripping grew by 25% in 2015, with mobile ripping overtaking desktop examples. “The usage of these sites is far larger than many realise, in fact making up 17.7% of all visits to piracy sites for music content,” said Muso at the time.
This is fuelling more rightsholder complaints for Google too: the BPI recently claimed its search engine was directing users “to stream ripping sites which they well know use YouTube streams to exploit music without paying the creators a penny”.
At least, according to the TubeNinja letter, YouTube’s legal team is taking the expected steps to stop that. Whether it can succeed is another question entirely.