Record Label Trade Association Prevails in DMCA Suit Brought by Over Fairness of its YouTube Content Downloading Service

Last Friday, Judge Stefan R. Underhill ruled on a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) case brought by Yout LLC against the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA). The 46-page opinion found that Yout, which sought a declaratory judgment, fell short of proving no violation under the DMCA after examining Yout’s software, which permits subscribers to download local copies of audio, video, and combination files from major streaming websites like YouTube.

The opinion explained that Yout, a Hartford, Conn. company, sued the RIAA, a trade association which represents the music recording industry in the United States, in October 2020. The complaint came after RIAA succeeded in getting Google to delist Yout’s website from its search results. RIAA did so because it perceived Yout’s software to facilitate DMCA infringement of recording artists’ work, as in another case against Github.

In particular, RIAA claimed that Yout’s software circumvented YouTube’s “rolling cipher, a technical protection measure, that protects our members’ works on YouTube from unauthorized copying/downloading.”

RIAA sent the first of several takedown notices to Google in October 2019. Google eventually delisted Yout and rendered its website undiscoverable to Yout’s users. Subsequently, some Yout customers canceled their subscriptions and Yout’s PayPal account was shut down due to the notices, purportedly causing financial and reputational damage. 

Yout’s second amended complaint sought a declaration that its services did not circumvent a technological security measure in violation of the DMCA, stated claims for business disparagement and defamation per se, and requested damages.

RIAA moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, primarily arguing that Yout failed to show the legality of its software.

The court sided with RIAA after hashing through the technical underpinnings of Yout and YouTube’s software. Questions before the court included whether the YouTube platform employs a “technological measure” within the meaning of the statute and guarding its content, whether the measure is effective, and whether Yout circumvented it. 

Pointing to the fact that YouTube does not allow the copying or downloading of content, and instead permits viewing by streaming only, Yout’s software “facilitate[d] unauthorized access to a downloadable digital copy,” Judge Underhill said. The court specified that Yout’s circumvention includes a bypass of YouTube’s technological measures and a modification of its “‘signature value.’”

Judge Underhill then declined Yout’s common law business disparagement and defamation per se claims, which argued RIAA’s take down notices to Google prejudiced Yout and resulted in damages, including harmed reputation, loss of business, and loss of goodwill. The court reasoned that without a successful DMCA claim, Yout did not show that RIAA was in the wrong when it submitted notices to Google on behalf of its members.

Yout is represented by Mudd Law and RIAA by Munger Tolles & Olson LLP and Wiggin and Dana LLP.