Community Rallies Behind Youtube-dl After DMCA Takedown

At this point, you’ve likely heard that the GitHub repository for youtube-dl was recently removed in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). As the name implies, this popular Python program allowed users to produce local copies of audio and video that had been uploaded to YouTube and other content hosting sites. It’s a critical tool for digital archivists, people with slow or unreliable Internet connections, and more than a few Hackaday writers.

It will probably come as no surprise to hear that the DMCA takedown and subsequent removal of the youtube-dl repository has utterly failed to contain the spread of the program. In fact, you could easily argue that it’s done the opposite. The developers could never have afforded the amount of publicity the project is currently enjoying, and as the code is licensed as public domain, users are free to share it however they see fit. This is one genie that absolutely won’t be going back into its bottle.

In true hacker spirit, we’ve started to see some rather inventive ways of spreading the outlawed tool. A Twitter user by the name of [GalacticFurball] came up with a way to convert the program into a pair of densely packed rainbow images that can be shared online. After downloading the PNG files, a command-line ImageMagick incantation turns the images into a compressed tarball of the source code. A similar trick was one of the ways used to distribute the DeCSS DVD decryption code back in 2000; though unfortunately, we doubt anyone is going to get the ~14,000 lines of Python code that makes up youtube-dl printed up on any t-shirts.

Screenshot of the Tweet sharing YouTube-dl repository as two images

It’s worth noting that GitHub has officially distanced themselves from the RIAA’s position. The company was forced to remove the repo when they received the DMCA takedown notice, but CEO Nat Friedman dropped into the project’s IRC channel with a promise that efforts were being made to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. In a recent interview with TorrentFreak, Friedman said the removal of youtube-dl from GitHub was at odds with the company’s own internal archival efforts and financial support for the Internet Archive.

But as it turns out, some changes will be necessary before the repository can be brought back online. While there’s certainly some debate to be had about the overall validity of the RIAA’s claim, it isn’t completely without merit. As pointed out in the DMCA notice, the project made use of several automated tests that ran the code against copyrighted works from artists such as Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake. While these were admittedly very poor choices to use as official test cases, the RIAA’s assertion that the entire project exists solely to download copyrighted music has no basis in reality.

[Ed Note: This is only about GitHub. You can still get the code directly from the source.]

63 thoughts on “Community Rallies Behind Youtube-dl After DMCA Takedown

        1. Its members consist of record labels and distributors, which the RIAA says “create, manufacture, and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legally sold recorded music in the United States”.[1]

          Listen to the 15% not covered by them?

          1. I did this a long time ago. It’s really quite easy. Search your favorite music source for “indie” followed by whatever genre you like best and enjoy much better music without the parasitic industry association. Really, who wants to listen to mass produced demographically targeted garbage when you can listen to real singer/songwriter/musicians? The ONLY downside I’ve found is that the songs are never available in karaoke.

          2. “mass produced demographically targeted garbage”
            = “code for stuff I disapprove of”

            Is the mass produced demographically targeted garbage of Bob Dylan (who seems to get less popular as time goes on) still on Columbia?

            It bears reminding that Zappa’s mass produced demographically targeted garbage first album was on Verve. I’m not familiar with this Indian music you mentioned.

            My favorite “music source” is my ears. You do you, I’ll be over here lookin’ goooood.

      1. I don’t think it’s as difficult as you imagine. It would be extremely simple to make a couple of test videos of your cat and just dedicate them to the public domain. Sure it’s not something everyone wants to see, but it certainly demonstrates the point without using copyrighted materials.

        1. At the least, I hope my suggestions would spare the developers the effort of finding a lady in a bikini (just barely on the “not pornographic” side of the line) willing to be filmed for “testing” purposes. Indeed, there’s not many open source supporters making age restricted videos.

          The other two cases I have seen on a XDA article were a normal video and a video that contains a dollar sign in the title, both of which there are plenty from makers everywhere.

          1. I came across a japanese kigurumi enthusiast and ran into difficulty downloading her age restricted content via youtube-dl. i contacted her about it via twitter @hireka5 and although her english wasn’t great the channel was fixed afterwards.
            Maybe you could spread the word to the developers. here’s one of her age restricted videos.


          1. Anyone who regularly films themselves or has themselves filmed for posting on the internet is exactly the same. It’s like complaining about actors who enjoy being on screen.

  1. Due to a dumb design decision about how GitHub forks are implemented, the entire youtube-dl history is now in GitHub’s DMCA repo (and GPG-signed by the lead developer as well!)

    git clone -n youtube-dl
    cd youtube-dl
    git fetch origin 416da574ec0df3388f652e44f7fe71b1e3a4701f
    git checkout FETCH_HEAD
    gpg –keyserver –recv-keys 2C393E0F18A9236D
    git verify-commit FETCH_HEAD

    1. I wouldn’t call it “dumb”, it’s just an implementation detail that can be abused a bit. Someone can equally easily raise a PR on any repo with the content of the youtube-dl codebase (or literally anything else they want); this just does it while retaining the history as well.

    1. No, not really. You make it sound like the lawyers are hurting themselves. I don’t think it works that way.

      Mostly tech-ignorant stuffed-suits hire lawyers to protect their content.
      Lawyers go after downloader project only ostensibly to reduce piracy.
      Streissand effect kicks in, now there is more downloading.
      Lawyer obtains more work and job security.
      Stuffed-suits see lawyers busy at work and rates them to be good employees.

  2. Meh, this will be thwarted in minutes.

    I’ve made it my personal mission to download the entire internet, hollywood included. Most hollywood movies from past 10 years are garbage. I download them just so I can delete them.

    We will not bow to the corporate masters. They believe they have absolute power, but in fact they are powerless.

  3. The RIAA is a bunch of brainless idiots that would drop a lawsuit against their own left shoe laces if they thought that they too closely resembled the ones on their right shoes. A real bunch of window-licking morons that do more damage to our society than they should ever be allowed to.

  4. In 100 years time, this will probably be all that she is known for.
    How many musicians and silent movie stars from the 1920’s could people name today, maybe Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin.

  5. The project is not banned, it’s removed from Github only. Latest version of source code and Windows binary can be downloaded from official page, yt-dl dot org. So no need to hide it into JPEGs and do other overcomplicated stuff when it can be normally downloaded, just not from Github.

  6. “…the RIAA’s assertion that the entire project exists solely to download copyrighted music has no basis in reality”

    I can’t find anything in where they say that? They do say: “Indeed, the comments in the youtube-dl source code make clear that the source code was designed and is marketed for the purpose of circumventing YouTube’s technological measures to enable unauthorized access to our member’s copyrighted works, and to make unauthorized copies and distributions thereof”.

    And even though the OP (Tom Nardi) here writes “It’s a critical tool for digital archivists, people with slow or unreliable Internet connections, and more than a few Hackaday writers.”, I would argue that these scenarios may be true for <1% of the use cases, but the far majority actually use the program for downloading copyrighted music.

    1. And the actual revenue lost from such downloads approaches -zero-. It cost little to make, almost nothing to distribute on the internet, and absolutely nothing for the person to download it onto their own media.

      Furthermore, A person that downloads something for free was very unlikely to pay for it in the first place. If someone gives me a justin bieber t-shirt for free I’ll gladly take it and wear it in the garage for oil changes, but I wouldn’t have paid for it.

      1. I can personally confirm this. youtube-dl has been my exclusive source for new music files for the past 10 years or so. But if I hadn’t had it, I would have been picking up CDs at yard sales and flea markets, not buying from stores (by extension, distributors).

        This is also why I don’t “buy” mp3 files–I don’t really own them, and it kills the secondary market.

        1. Point noted but not really helpful.

          Your admission that this is what you use youtube-dl for would only help the RIAA’s case. The fact that you wouldn’t be buying CDs anyway may undermine the purpose of the law but a judge is not a legislator. If the makers of youtube-dl were to be sued by the RIAA whether downloaders actually would have bought the content would be irrelevant as the use is still against the law. And if you tried to explain this to our aged, ultra-right wing legislature they would still be trying to figure out where to insert the punch cards into your computer.

          1. Is it not helpful stating a fact? It may not help the youtube-dl makers, but seriously, if a tool is mostly used for illegal activities should it then removed or not?

    2. I think you underestimate how many folks like myself have slow or unreliable Internet and /must/ download streaming videos just to be able to watch them! I mean, I could just learn to live with the constant buffering and low resolutions – or I could use youtube-dl. And the number of journalists, archivists, and even youtube creators who use youtube-dl legitimately every day might also surprise you.

    1. Less and less. Lot of countries (at least where I am in Europe) put in place some access restriction, typically to torrent aggregator site. Or use scare tactic to discourage people to use torrent.
      Torrent related site themselves recommend the use of VPN.
      But I am not investing in a VPN service just for a couple of songs.

  7. If all you want is audio of a you tube song with an album art still or any other stream just use the combo of Windows and Audacity. Open Audacity and on the left most dropdown menu select WASAPI, it lets you tap the digital stream inside Windows and route it directly to be captured. Hit record and then start stream, done! Hot sauce for the RIAA. The only good thing they did was to standardize the different label’s recording EQs to one, RCA’s new orthophonic!

  8. The reason the youtube-dl code had test cases against Taylor Swift etc is to test out very specific DRM protections that the vast majority of youtube videos don’t have. So swapping them with public domain videos wouldn’t work as it’s only the high profile music videos that have the deluxe DRM.

    * According to what I gleaned on reddit :-)

    1. And having these specific tests and bypass tools for DRM that basically only exists on videos containing music owned by RIAA members doesn’t help the argument that youtube-dl isn’t just a way to pirate music.

  9. Improper filing of a DMCA takedown notice – for example, against something that turns out not to be infringing – should carry the punishment of revocation of your entitlement to hold copyrights.

  10. As of November 10, 2020, the latest version of Youtube-dl version 2020.11.01.1 stopped working! Youtube saw a weakness (source code repo down) and probably tweaked some little thing on their end to render Youtube-dl totally useless. Which they’ve done. What is the plan to fix this?

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