Uberspace owner hits out at youtube-dl ruling, vows to appeal

Business News Digital Legal

By Chris Cooke | Published on Wednesday 12 April 2023

The owner of German web hosting company Uberspace has vowed to appeal the recent ruling in the Hamburg courts that ordered it to take down the webpage of stream-ripping software youtube-dl.

That ruling brings together two elements of the music industry’s ongoing fight against music piracy. First, going after stream-ripping services, which allow people to grab permanent downloads of temporary streams, most often YouTube streams. And second, seeking to get a wider range of internet companies to assist in blocking access to alleged piracy services, including hosting companies.

Reps for the record industry unsurprisingly welcomed the recent court decision regarding the youtube-dl webpage, with International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry CEO Frances Moore stating: “The decision from the Hamburg Regional Court builds on the precedent already set in Germany, further indicating that hosting stream-ripping software of this nature is illegal”.

But Uberspace owner Jonas Pasche takes issue with both the conclusion that the providers of stream-ripping services and software are liable for copyright infringement and the idea that a web hosting company like his should be obliged to remove a website on the basis of a takedown notice submitted by a copyright owner.

Defenders of stream-ripping services often point out that said services have legitimate as well as illegitimate uses and therefore – they argue – should not be deemed liable for copyright infringement, even if many – maybe most – of their users use the tech to infringe copyright.

It is true that some people use stream-ripping tools for non-copyright-infringing means. Though, it’s worth noting, the “but it also has legitimate uses” argument was also used by the makers of P2P file-sharing software back in the day, generally without success in court.

Also, in the US courts – in particular in the legal battle between the record industry and stream-ripping service Yout – it was concluded that stream-ripping services directly violate the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act by circumventing technical protection measures put in place by YouTube to stop people downloading permanent copies of copyright protected content.

Yout and others argue that YouTube doesn’t actually have any such technical protection measures, because you can download content from YouTube via a web-browser if you know what you’re doing.

But in the American legal battle between the labels and Yout, a court concluded that manually downloading content from YouTube is enough of a faff to conclude that the Google video site has put in place some measures to try to stop such downloads.

However, in an interview with Torrentfreak, Pasche argues that the legal status of software like youtube-dl is not so clear cut, with plenty of people arguing that the provision of the software – and its use, depending on what content is downloaded – doesn’t necessarily break copyright rules, including under German law.

And as for companies like Uberspace having to police access to software or services that one group says are illegal but another group says are legit, well, Pasche reckons, “this is ridiculous … and it’s devastating”.

The Uberspace owner says the precedent set in this case will force hosting companies to remove content whenever they receive a copyright takedown notice, even if the takedown claim is dubious and should really be considered by a court of law.

“This court decision basically takes away the option of staying neutral for a hosting provider”, Pasche claims. In the future hosting companies “will be unable to say ‘it might be unlawful, but it’s not really clear, let a court decide about this and until then continue to host it’. [Instead] they will have to say ‘it might be unlawful, so better let’s get rid of it, without a court order’”.

“This is a shameful day for the freedom of speech”, he then says. “It’s paving the way for privatised censorship. Do we as a society really want this? We strongly believe we’re on the right side of history here. Everyone except the music industry knows this”.


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