The RIAA Demands That a Virginia Court Hear Its Case Against Russian Stream-Ripper FLVTO.biz
After a quick defeat on jurisdictional grounds, the RIAA is appealing its case against FLVTO.biz and its owner, Russian-based Tofig Kurbanov.
The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents major labels Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Entertainment, is now appealing a quickly-issued defeat against FLVTO.biz and its owner, Tofig Kurbanov.
Kurbanov is the owner of both FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com, both heavily-trafficked YouTube ‘stream-rippers’ based in Russia. Kurbanov, who lives in the Russian town of Rostov-on-Don, is currently unable to travel to the United States for court proceedings based on visa restrictions.
Both sites convert YouTube videos into downloads. Alphabet-owned YouTube, which is widely believed to have the power to cripple FLVTO.biz, is not a party in the case.
The RIAA, along with high-priced legal counsel Jenner & Block, suffered a quick defeat last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In the decision, Senior U.S. District Court judge Claude M. Hilton dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, particularly given the site’s Russian headquarters and global reach.
“Plaintiffs make the contention that Defendants’ tracking of where the users are located and use of geo-targeted advertisements demonstrates that he was targeting Virginians and Americans,” Hilton wrote.
“This is an attenuated argument as tracking the location of a user does not show targeting of the user or their location; instead it is merely a recording of where the user’s unilateral action took place.”
Traffic from the State of Virginia represents about 0.2% of FLVTO.biz’s traffic, according to data submitted to the court. Those users are oftentimes targeted by location-based ads, though so are users in every other U.S. state — not to mention foreign countries around the globe.
So why Virginia, then?
At first blush, the RIAA’s offices in nearby Washington, D.C. offer a quick explanation. A short Uber ride away, the RIAA’s gaggle of attorneys could quickly file paperwork in the U.S. District Court of Virginia and score a victory. But a far more serious reason was also offered.
Heading into the decision, the RIAA had faced serious criticism over its filings against foreign operators in U.S. courtrooms. That includes Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Mitch Stoltz and Kurbanov’s attorneys, both of whom accused the trade group of abusing the legal system to score easy, far-reaching victories against no-show defendants.
That seemed to be the game plan against FLVTO.biz, whose operator has never visited the United States in his life (much less Virginia). But the shadowy Tofig Kurbanov turned out to be not-so-shadowy after all: despite his inability to appear in a U.S. courtroom, Kurbanov did assemble a serious defense of American attorneys, a group that quickly dismantled Jenner’s flimsy jurisdictional arguments.
The decisive result is not only bad news for the RIAA. It also imperils a litigation strategy long employed by other IP-based industries in the U.S., including those spanning media, software, fashion, and other areas.
Accordingly, the RIAA now finds itself fighting for its life — and a legal defense strategy used by many other industries. Initially, the RIAA’s Cara Duckworth declined to comment on the decision, and admitted that a response strategy hadn’t been created. Now, an appeal is underway. “The court got it wrong,” Duckworth fumed to Billboard.
“[Hilton’s] decision represents a big step backward in the protection of American culture and the creators that fuel it. We look forward to laying out our arguments in the weeks ahead.”