The website youtube-mp3.org serves over one million users every day, converting YouTube videos to MP3s. Behind the service is Philip Matesanz, a 21-year-old German studying computer science. Last month, Google sent Philip a cease-and-desist, claiming that the site’s function violates YouTube’s terms of service. In response, he produced two expert reports in defense of the site’s legality. More powerfully, the results translated into an online petition which has garnered nearly 1 million signatures to date (which, according to Change.org, is the biggest petition started by someone outside the US and one of the top-five biggest petitions on change.org to date.) This week, Philip agreed to an exclusive interview with VentureVillage.
In a recent article on Mashable, you reported having a single phone call with Google that was “aborted because there was no progress whatsoever.” What was that talk like?
I was talking to another legal counsel at Google and the conversation was pretty pointless since he was unwilling to accept any argument I brought to the table. To give you an impression of the conversation:
Google: Your service is illegal and your users are committing copyright violations.Philip: Well, my lawyers are telling me that this isn’t the case and I’ve even published the results of their research.Google: Your service is illegal and your users are committing copyright violations.Philip: Even the German Department of Justice has publicly stated that users who download content off YouTube are just exercising their right to create a private copy.Google: They will certainly not say something like this.Philip: Here is an article from Welt Online where the Department of Justice is confirming my position.Google: Your service is illegal and your users are committing copyright violations.
And then you hung up?
I continued to maintain my position and Google has noticed that there was no progress and they simply told me that they would “take my opinion into reconsideration.” From my personal perspective this just shows that Google had no interest at all to find a solution that would take the rights of the users into consideration. I am not a lawyer and certainly not a law expert but can you have a more trustworthy and unbiased source for legal statements than your own Department of Justice? I don’t think so.
Your Change.org petition has more than 932,000 signatures. How will Google react to a million?
I am planning to print the petition and deliver it personally to Google. Unfortunately I am not quite sure yet how I am supposed to print 25,000-35,000 pages of signatures. Another scalability issue I have to face. Last month, Google introduced a way to watch some content while offline for users of the YouTube Android app.
Are you expecting other points of access?
In my opinion this isn’t a sign that Google will extent content access in the future. It’s obvious that they want to become a central source for content in the future and are striving to get another monopoly. Right now they’re the video-hosting site that has the largest reach and no other site is even close to that. I’m pretty sure that this will intensify within the next few years and you will have a state where Google has a market share of 90 per cent and all competitors have 10 per cent combined.
OK. But services that let the public store YouTube recordings aren’t going to stop Google’s monopoly, are they?
It’s no secret that they want to replace TV and radio. Right now you have hundreds of independent TV and radio stations in every country. Do you think it’s a good development if YouTube replaces these sources of content? YouTube would become the central TV and radio station worldwide. It would be Google’s decision what people can see and what they hear. Services that allow the public to create a YouTube recording are certainly not in the position to stop this development but at least they give the public a little bit of control and allow them to store what’s important to them on their own computer. It doesn’t have to be “unimportant” things like music but political or religious messages.
Can you tell us more specifically what people are recording on your site?
I haven’t created any statistics on what my service is being used for because I respect the privacy of my users and don’t think that I should be allowed to know what type of media they are accessing through my service. But everytime I had to check what a specific machine was doing I saw that there was at least one political discussion or religious message being recorded. Sometimes those messages are being deleted or they are blocked because the creator has added some sort of background music to that video without bad intentions. It cannot be in the interest of the public that there exists only one copy of such content which is stored at Google and nobody has the possibility to create its own private copy Google has no influence on.
But Google is a profit-oriented company. Would you rather have it another way?
You’re 21. How the hell did you get here?
I had to basically ignore my private life since I was 16 years old and had to focus on gaining practical experience because theoretical knowledge is pretty worthless (in my humble opinion). I turned out to become very thoughtful and have asked myself multiple times so far if I’m still on the right track or if I’m doing something wrong once again. Unfortunately, I can say for sure, that I haven’t done much with my life so far. I wasn’t very interested in learning when I was in grammar school and only did things that were funny.
What happened after school ended?
I spent nearly all of my time in-front of a computer trying to develop software. I started my own little web project which managed to get 50-80k visits a month and I was pretty proud about that and knew that I was finally on the right path. After that I was very interested in security aspects in web development. I found vulnerabilities in lots of reputable sites ranging from eBay to several banking websites and had a lot of fun while I was finding these vulnerabilities and reporting them to the companies. In some cases, I even got a reward.
After a few other projects, you launched youtube-mp3.org. What was the first version like?
I started it on a tiny virtual server and had no knowledge at all if it comes to distributed high performance clusters. I’ve managed to keep up with the growth I was facing and ended with a large cluster that fills several racks with highly powerful servers.
Are you going to get your platform back?
I’m not sure how I should progress. The whole situation is really bizarre. While they have started to block my servers from accessing YouTube they don’t care about the technical aspects of this situation. They don’t want to understand that they cannot do anything to stop their users from creating a private copy once the whole progress will be performed by the computer of the user itself. Right now millions of people are trying to access YouTube through my servers that act like a proxy which means millions of users use a very limited number of IP addresses which Google can block easily.
If every user had his own IP address, they can’t simply block hundreds of millions of people worldwide from accessing YouTube, could they?
No. Other services have already demonstrated this by simply using a so-called Java-Applet after being blocked. This is basically a software that will be loaded to the computer of the user and is being executed there. Also there are large corporations that create and sell such software you can install on your own computer. Google most likely knows best, that a company that is worth $300 million and sells software – that does exactly the same – won’t be afraid once they tell them to stop. As far as I know, they haven’t even asked them to stop selling their software.
Pretty absurd, isn’t it?
To top this, I wouldn’t even have to start developing my own Java-Applet, I could buy such an applet for a few hundred dollars. I haven’t done it because I still believe in the idea of a cloud-software.
How will this story end? Is the power in the signatures of your users?
The people have shown what they want. I have no doubt that my petition could gather more than two million signatures which was enough to “deeply impress” the European Union if it comes to the ACTA agreement. It is the decision of Google if they want to respect the wish of their users or if they simply continue to ignore them.