The largest and most popular stream ripping website in the world, Youtube-mp3.org, has not been functioning for well over a month. It isn't clear if the site will shut down permanently, but other alternative stream ripping sites are experiencing a traffic surge in the wake of its loss of functionality, which may well have to do with a recent lawsuit leveled against the converter.
Stream Ripping Phenomenon
We've been reporting on the growing online phenomenon of stream ripping and how the practice has been affecting the music industry. Stream ripping is a process by which a user pastes the URL of a YouTube video or SoundCloud stream into a dedicated conversion box on a stream ripping website, which then converts the audio from the selected source into an audio file available for download. In practical terms, stream ripping sites allow users to create permanent MP3 files of just about any song available on the web.
The practice has grown to the extent that almost half of all young web users and one-third of all internet users have utilized it, with the heretofore largest stream ripping site, YouTube-mp3.org, having received an estimated 400 million visitors monthly.
Stream ripping has also been cited as one of the main reasons for the precipitous decline in digital download sales observed recently, with the proliferation of streaming of course being the other culprit in the drop in online music sales.
RIAA Lawsuit Filed, Site Functionality Disabled
It was only a matter of time before the major record labels attempted to take action against the sites that offer stream ripping capabilities, and this September, they filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Youtube-mp3.org.
"Both the site and its operator have generated millions of dollars without paying any remuneration to artists and rights holders," stated the Recording Industry Association Of America. While there has been no formal response to the lawsuit, which has not yet been served internationally, the site began displaying a maintenance error message since at least Oct. 13.
When users visit the site, the usual splash page and conversion box appear, but upon entering the URL of a video or song, a message appears stating "There is some Maintenance going on. Please try again within the next hour."
It isn't clear whether the site will ever return to functionality, or if it has thrown in the towel, but in its wake, alternative converters such as Tubeninja and anything2mp3.com have seen a surge in traffic.
Stream Ripping Legal?
It's important to note that the legality of stream ripping in the United States has never been determined. Users and providers have argued that the practice is simply the technological equivalent of recording a song off of the radio on a cassette, which is not considered copyright infringement.
If the operators of YouTube-mp3.org actively fight the current lawsuit, there should be a definitive determination, but the extended shutdown of the site's functionality may indicate that there will be no defense and the suit will be won by default, leaving other stream rippers vulnerable to similar legal action.