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Downloading music through stream extraction tools may be perfectly legal, the French culture ministry has confirmed. The resulting copies fall under the private copying exemption. However, this only applies if the stream-ripping service does not circumvent technological protection measures, which is a widely contested issue.
Free music is easy to find these days. Just head over to YouTube and you can find millions of tracks including most of the newer versions.
While the music industry benefits from the ads on many of these videos, they don’t like the fact that some people use external tools to download music tracks.
Various record companies are battling this threat with DMCA notices, lawsuits, and website blocking requests. YouTube itself is also stepping in and actively blocking stream rippers, which is an ongoing battle.
Legal or not?
Copyright holders believe stream extraction sites are breaking the law, but in most countries legal uncertainties remain. In the United States, for example, popular stream-ripper Yout.com sued the RIAA in an attempt to have its site declared legal. This case, which is still ongoing, could set an important precedent.
In France, the Ministry of Culture was recently questioned on the issue of stream-ripping. Philippe Latombe, member of the MoDem party, asked the government whether copies downloaded via these services are considered illegal.
The question was part of a larger survey in the rules and regulations on private copying. These allow people to copy music and movies in exchange for a tax paid on storage media and devices, including blank CDs, hard drives, and smartphones.
Stream extraction is legal if …
Responding to the question, the Ministry of Culture confirmed that, under the right conditions, it is perfectly legal to use streaming services to download music and other media.
“[Stream-ripping] is legal and the resulting copy falls under the exception for private copying provided for by law, if several conditions are met: it must come from a lawful source at the request of the user, without being kept by the converter, and no circumvention of technological protection measures should be implemented.
If all three of these boxes are checked, stream ripping is in the same league as ripping or copying an old-fashioned CD or DVD.
The big question, however, is in what situation would all of these conditions apply? When it comes to YouTube ripping, the “source” could be considered legal, as artists and labels often upload the videos themselves.
The second box is also checked by many stream-rippers because they don’t store music all the time. The operator of stream-rippers FLVto and 2Conv recently said that their site does not even store basic logs because it will incur significant costs.
This brings us to the third and final condition; if the stream-ripper circumvents the technical protection measures. This is a crucial question and the answer depends largely on who you ask the question.
Rolling number …
Major music labels, represented by the RIAA, claim that these download tools bypass YouTube’s “progressive encryption” technology. This has been argued in at least one lawsuit in Germany. But not everyone agrees.
Backed by the German court ruling, the RIAA asked GitHub to remove the youtube-mp3 stream extractor tool. This request was initially granted but was later canceled, with GitHub stating that the project did not circumvent technical safeguards.
The “issue” of circumvention is also at the heart of the legal battle between Yout.com and the RIAA in US federal court. This is a high profile case and the result is expected to have far-reaching implications for other stream extraction tools.
For now, this means that the clarification of the French Ministry of Culture is not very helpful. Most people just don’t know if a stream ripper is storing content. And they cannot decide whether technological protection measures are bypassed if it is still an open question for legal experts.