(Hypebot) — While most stream-ripping sites have been quick to close their doors when faced with litigation by well-funded industry groups, Russia-based FLVTO.biz has been more resistant, claiming the US legal system holds no jurisdiction over them, an argument now potentially headed to the Supreme Court.
By Timothy Geigner from Techdirt
While the music industry’s war on stream-ripping sites — sites that have perfectly legitimate and legal uses — continues, it’s true that this is a war in which one side has almost universally surrendered. Facing legal opposition with well-funded industry groups, most stream-ripping sites simply close up shop when staring down litigation. But Russia-based FLVTO.biz has been an exception. We first wrote about the site’s decision to defend itself back in early 2019. At that point, the owner of the site, Tofig Kurbanov, had successfully argued in a Florida court that the United States legal system had no jurisdiction over his site, given that it operates in Russia and makes no effort to entice American patronage.
It was a sensible ruling. After all, why should anyone want websites in one nation to be subject to the laws of every other nation’s laws just because the internet is designed to be international? And, yet, the RIAA labels appealed the ruling and got it reversed. The case was sent back to the lower courts where it was supposed to once again proceed, except that Kurbanov’s team has asked the Supreme Court to consider its jurisdiction arguments once more.
Those plans were then confirmed last month back at the Virginia court where the lawsuit began, which is considering the case anew following the Fourth Circuit ruling. Kurbanov’s lawyers have asked the district court to pause the ongoing proceedings there pending their application to the Supreme Court.
That application was submitted earlier this week. It argues that the top court should consider the case, because some Supreme Court style consideration is required on the issue of whether or not “the ‘due process clause’ of the United States Constitution is violated when a foreign citizen is subjected to personal jurisdiction based entirely on: (1) his operation of a website that is popular both within the United States and worldwide, but which is not specifically aimed at the United States; and (2) minor internet-based and internet-initiated transactions entered into by the foreign citizen entirely from outside the United States”.
This is indeed just the sort of important due process argument in the age of the internet that a sober SCOTUS should be weighing in on. And, while we could get lost in the legality of it all, common sense really should rule the day here. Does American law have jurisdiction over foreign entities not making any real effort to do commerce on American soil or does it not? And, if so, what precedent does that set for every other nation out there in terms of how American-based businesses conduct business over the internet?
Shall legal pornography websites in America be subject to the more prudish laws of other nations? Should news organizations in America face litigation from countries with far fewer press and free speech protections? Hell, should American entities legitimately selling RIAA label music themselves face threats from countries with obscenity laws and the like?
Evan Fray-Witzer said: “If you operate a website that is popular, then you’re subject to jurisdiction anywhere – and everywhere – that people access the website. And that’s not a precedent that anyone should want to stand, because if Kurbanov can be dragged into court here from Russia, then any US citizen who creates a popular website can expect to be dragged into court anywhere in the world”.
The lawyer also told Torrentfreak that the major labels should support his client’s bid to get the Supreme Court to provide clarity on this issue.
“If the record companies are so certain that the Fourth Circuit got this question right, then they should be anxious for the Supreme Court to take up the case”, he added. “We invite them to join our petition and ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on these crucial jurisdictional questions. But I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so”.
It can be hard for the labels to see past the ends of their own noses, but they should realize that they could truly be biting themselves in their own asses if SCOTUS refuses to hear this case and this precedent gets set. The internet is international, but American laws are not.