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Russian stream-ripping sites plan to take jurisdiction debate to US Supreme Court

By | Published on Friday 31 July 2020


The operator of stream-ripping services and is hoping to take his ongoing dispute over the jurisdiction of the American courts in relation to foreign websites to the US Supreme Court. That plan follows the refusal of an appeals court to consider the matter en banc.

Stream-ripping sites – which allow people to turn temporary streams into permanent downloads – have been a top piracy gripe of the music industry for some time, of course. For a few years now the record companies have been suing or threatening to sue various popular stream-ripping set-ups, resulting in a number of services actually going offline.

However, Tofig Kurbanov – operator of Russia-based and – fought back when his websites were sued for copyright infringement by the American record industry. And at first instance he successfully got the labels’ lawsuit dismissed on jurisdiction grounds.

He argued that – because his websites were Russian operations with no direct business dealings in the US – the American courts did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute, even though Americans used his services. And a district court in Virginia concurred.

The labels then took their case to the Fourth Circuit appeals court back in May, where judges concluded that the district court judge was wrong to quickly dismiss the lawsuit on those jurisdiction grounds. The appeal judges listed various reasons why it could be deemed that and were actively trading in the US – and specifically Virginia – even though the websites are formally based in Russia and don’t require any sign-up from users.

The technical interaction that occurred between Kurbanov’s servers and the computers of his site’s American users constituted a “commercial relationship”; he’d had business dealings with US-based advertisers and server companies and registered a ‘DMCA agent’ with the US Copyright Office; plus he could but didn’t seek to geo-block Americans from using and

With all that in mind, appeal judges sent the case back to the district court ordering that a full hearing on the jurisdiction issue now take place. If, following that full hearing, the Virginia court decided it did, in fact, have jurisdiction, then the labels could present their arguments for why and should be held liable for the copyright infringement they facilitated.

But before any of that could happen, Kurbanov’s lawyers went back to the Fourth Circuit to request that their case be reconsidered by the appeals court ‘en banc’, meaning more judges take part. Such hearings are usually reserved for cases that involve significant issues of law.

However, said Kurbanov’s attorneys, there were sufficiently significant issues of law involved in this lawsuit, in particular whether or not a failure to geo-block the US – and/or allowing advertisers to geo-target US users – were, in fact, sufficient factors to rule that a foreign website was actively operating in the States. But the Fourth Circuit nevertheless declined to consider the matter again.

Speaking to Torrentfreak, one of those lawyers, Evan Fray-Witzer, said the Fourth Circuit’s ruling set a dangerous precedent that could have a big impact on all foreign website operators. This makes it important enough for Supreme Court consideration, he added.

“The Supreme Court has not yet decided a case concerning personal jurisdiction based on internet contacts and we think this case would be a good opportunity for the court to address the issue head-on”, he continued.

So we now await to see what the Supreme Court has to say, further dragging out this whole legal battle. The copyright arguments, remember, haven’t even begun yet.