Youtube-dl Makes Their Case, Returns To GitHub

Last month, the GitHub repository for the popular program youtube-dl was taken down in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The crux of the RIAA complaint was that the tool could be used to download local copies of music streamed from various platforms, a claim they said was supported by the fact that several copyrighted music files were listed as unit tests in the repository.

While many believed this to be an egregious misrepresentation of what the powerful Python program was really used for, the RIAA’s argument was not completely without merit. As such, GitHub was forced to comply with the DMCA takedown until the situation could be clarified. Today we’re happy to report that has happened, and the youtube-dl repository has officially been reinstated.

Represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the current maintainers of youtube-dl made their case to GitHub’s DMCA agent in a letter this afternoon which explained how the tool worked and directly addressed the issue of copyrighted videos being used as test cases in the source code. They maintain that their program does not circumvent any DRM, and that the exchange between the client and server is the same as it would be if the user had viewed the resource with a web browser. Further, they believe that downloading a few seconds worth of copyrighted material for the purpose of testing the software’s functionality is covered under fair use. Even still, they’ve decided to remove all references to the songs in question to avoid any hint at impropriety.

Having worked closely with the youtube-dl developers during this period, GitHub released their own statement to coincide with the EFF letter. They explained that the nature of the RIAA’s original complaint forced their hand, but that they never believed taking down the repository was the right decision. Specifically, they point out the myriad of legitimate reasons that users might want to maintain local copies of streamed media. While GitHub says they are glad that this situation was resolved quickly, they’ll be making several changes to their internal review process to help prevent further frivolous takedowns. Specifically the company says they will work with technical and legal experts to review the source code in question before escalating any further, and that if there’s any ambiguity as to the validity of the claim, they’ll side with the developers.

The Internet was quick to defend youtube-dl after the takedown, and we’re happy to see that GitHub made good on their promises to work with the developers to quickly get the repository back online. While the nature of open source code meant that the community was never in any real danger of losing this important tool, it’s in everyone’s best interest that development of the project can continue in the open.

47 thoughts on “Youtube-dl Makes Their Case, Returns To GitHub

    1. “…They maintain that their program does not circumvent any DRM, and that the exchange between the client and server is the same as it would be if the user had viewed the resource with a web browser.”

      This smells of long-ago legal action from the same clown circus that sought to prevent people recording music from broadcast and (vinyl) records they’d already paid for onto magnetic tape. I think the end result was essentially the same – if you were listening to the radio or had bought the record and recorded it onto a cassette for your own use it was acceptable – retail bootleg copies not so much, but that would be a slow way to get rich.

  1. The type of tool the average Joe uses to download off youtube is not commandline anyways.
    There are countless adware youtube downloaders that were unaffected.
    I wonder why they were targeting youtube-dl in the first place and hamfisted like that.
    These are just scare tactics to demoralize the free/libre and open source software community.

  2. I do not use “Youtube-dl” for any kind of illegal activities.
    I could not believe that such a fu*king American musik-rights-organisation could damage the posibility for me to download Videos from Youtube.

    I am interested in technical Videos and very often I do not have access to the Internet … because I life in Germany, the only land in the world where the people have to pay a much money for the internet-connection and with the worst availability.

    I see the Vlogs from a girl and her videos are sometimes deleted … without any reason and without any explanation. It is good to be able to re-upload the videos. She is unable to make a backup of her own Vlog, because she is doing all this with a mobile-phone.

    If I see something what is interesting, then it is in general a good Idea to make a private copy. In Germany this is covered by law.

    If you are a student and have to write something, then you have to show the source of the scientific work.
    Very often the source is not available any more after a while. Webpages are not there any more, PDF-Files are deleted, Videos are removed from YT.
    If someone else did a Test, then you do not have to try this or learn from the mistakes.

    It is important to be able to make a private copy.

    1. ” the only land in the world where the people have to pay a much money for the internet-connection and with the worst availability.”

      Apparently you never seen a American Internet connection. Pay for 50Mbps and you’re lucky enough to get 25Mbps and typically spend around 200 bucks a month for it.

        1. He probably made a wild guess, but considering your comment complainig about the infrastructure, it was kinda obvious :)
          However, your username, when clicked, points to a website, which I would consider yours. Hackaday saves this if you tick a little box, so it might be that.
          And last but not least, I would like to contradict @ngio, and laugh in Romanain, with ~12EUR for Fiber and TV in a somewhat remote area.

    2. I use a different program, but often need to download technical videos for offline use. In my job, I am often months without internet. The creators of these videos make them freely available. Why should I do without when I’m not online?

  3. This is a big relief. It seems like RIAA won’t be happy until they can outlaw any device that is capable of recording anything at all, outside fo their control. I use youtube-dl for a LOT, for things RIAA shouldn’t have any say over.

      1. Of course, “subscription-based”, ARPA, MRR and so on, we are slave cash cows from monopolies that have subverted competition to own the world. Look at the 30% “tax” that you have to pay to GAFAM to charge a credit card on those “platforms” (more like prisons), while any other payment processor takes much less…

        Look at how GAFAM combined are valued to close (or more) than the GDP of countries like the UK or France…how do you expect any oversight over companies sized that way?

    1. This has been a concern of mine. I’ve been using youtube-dl for years, and have always worried that because it works so well, it would get popular enough that either someone like RIAA or YouTube itself would see it as a threat, and try to outlaw it. YouTube of course wants every view of its videos to be an opportunity for numerous ad views, and content providers similarly may feel that they’re losing revenue if viewers can make backup copies of their content. Well, this has been covered before, when some organization (may have been RIAA) tried to outlaw Compact Cassette recorders, and some other organization, I think it was a consortium of movie studios, tried to outlaw VCRs. And then there was that period when some CD recorders had to use blank “music” CDs, which included in their price some royalty payment. None of these has prevailed, but each has caused a moment of anxiety because of the restrictions that they placed on NON-infringing use of recording devices. So yeah, I’ve been dreading the day when one of these “we own ALL content” organizations would hear about youtube-dl, Fortunately I already had the source code for it anyway, but if I had to maintain my own copy just to keep up with changes YouTube makes, it would be a lot of work I’d rather not have to do. So, fingers crossed, this is over, at least for a while.

      1. Oh – but regarding the Streisand effect, I agree that this will really boost public awareness of youtube-dl, and thereby actually increase downloads of copyrighted music – smooth move, RIAA. But youtube-dl has been open-source from the start, and I don’t think this will change that, particularly in light of the support they have gotten from the open-source community in this matter.

      2. “YouTube of course wants every view of its videos to be an opportunity for numerous ad views, and content providers similarly may feel that they’re losing revenue if viewers can make backup copies of their content.”

        Yeah…. Unfortunately, I’m that guy. There are a number of channels I enjoy regular content from their uploads, but frankly I’m beyond sick and tired of advertising and have gone to great lengths to remove it completely from my life. If I see another commercial for Liberty Mutual insurance, I’ll slam my head in a car door. I get these businesses are trying to make money with ads, but when I’m forced to watch a 2 minute ad before I can enjoy a 4 minute video, or if a 20 minute video is interrupted 8 times with ads… some ads lately have even prevented the video from continuing. Enough is enough. I’ve since sought out a python/youtube-dl script that’ll run on a cron schedule and download new postings from the channels I saved in the configuration, then rclone them to a “youtube” folder on my plex server. Problem solved.

        Kick a few bucks a month via patreon and call it a day.

        1. A combination of uBlock origin or pihole and SponsorBlock has basically nullified all advertising of the “Hijacks your video” type and practically all “In-video by the creator advertising” on youtube for me. Always find it hilariously bizarre when I’m watching a video and the person starts talking about “How the youtube ads have become ridiculous and I’m taking steps to combat this” as I genuinely forget there’s any ads at all on youtube at times, certainly of the more obnoxious video interrupting ones as inserted by youtube.

        2. You’re not the only one. I run uBlock Origin on every browser I have, Adaway with root on Android, and I don’t watch or listen to any broadcast signals. My life has changed and improved SO MUCH. I’m shocked when I think back to how much of my life was being wasted not only on watching TV, but by the ads especially. Nearly a third of viewing time was ads back 30 years ago. I don’t know what it is now, but I doubt things got better.

          1. every now and then I disable the adblock to test it’s not breaking things, then I forget to turn it back on… then I realise people live like this all the time and feel sad for them… then I turn it back on

  4. Since when do programmers play ball with the RIAA? If the platform your code is hosted on caves to their demands, find a new platform. Don’t legitimize copyrights, and definitely don’t respect them.

      1. Like the ones implemented by the US government which threatened multiple people with life long prison sentences for sharing math functions?

        Can’t imagine how things would have turned out if they succeed in having encryption declared a weapon.

    1. Sometimes you have to ‘play the game’. It’s sad but that is what happens when you live in an oppressive capitalist society. The sad part, this society is the best we can come up with. All other systems are worse, much worse. :(

  5. While the Streisand Effect has surely increased the userbase of youtube-dl, they were basically asking to be harassed by the RIAA by including anything pointing towards copyrighted music. I don’t mean to victim blame here, but isn’t there a point when it’s no longer blaming the victim and it’s warning people not to stick their heads in lions’ mouths? When you invite your own destruction, it’s more “too dumb to live”.

    1. Absolutely, they screwed up when they used copywrite music for the test cases. But they didn’t deserve to have the whole repo pulled. This could have been solved with a pull request.

      1. Completely agree. However the RIAA are notorious for these types of actions. It’s like we’ve learned nothing from napster, youtube, twitch, piratebay, etc. To continue with my metaphor, the RIAA is a lion well known for biting off heads, but youtube-dl assumed their neck wasn’t worth biting. What?! That lion lives just to bite off heads! It’s the damn thing’s favorite pastime.

  6. Now, if only someone had them kinda cohones when Tektronix obtained a DMCA takedown of people documenting how to hack the DPO oscilloscope line’s internal coding. They don’t even make the DPO line any more

    We REALLY need a “right to repair” law!

  7. I think if anything this saga has made MORE people aware that you can download videos (and their audio) from YouTube and lead to more people downloading copyrighted music from the platform.

  8. Nice that they Git Hub inform me of reinstating it but not of tacking in down!!!

    “I’m reaching out on behalf of the GitHub Trust & Safety team about our decision to reverse the RIAA DMCA takedown of your repository:”

  9. they could have moved it all to gitlab, where a bunch of people moved their projects at when MS bought out github.

    word to the wise, do this in the future if it happens to your project.

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