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.

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.]

Hardware “Security” And A DMCA Takedown Notice

tektronix-autoLast week we published a post about how it was discovered through trial and error that Tektronix application modules are designed with laughable security. We’ll get to that part of it in a minute. We received a DMCA Takedown Notice from Tektronix (which you can read after the break) demanding that we remove the post. We have altered the original post, but we believe our coverage of this story is valid and we don’t agree that the post should be completely removed.

First off, Tektronix sells the modules to unlock the features already present on the Oscilloscope in questions. We’re operating on the moral assumption that using these features without paying their asking price is wrong. If you want the features they’ve developed you should pay for them.

The real story here is that Tektronix designed a woefully weak system for unlocking these modules. Learn from this. If you’re ever designing a hardware key, don’t do it like this!

An EEPROM, a connector, and a plain text string of characters which is already published publicly on their website is all that is necessary to unlock these “crippled” features. Let’s just say that again: apparently every hardware key is the same and just uses a plain-text string found on their website which is not encrypted or obfuscated. If you were selling these keys for $2.99 perhaps this would be adequate, but Tek values these modules at $500 apiece.

If you were designing this system wouldn’t it be worth using an encryption key pair based on the serial number or some other piece of unique information? How do you think this should have been done? Leave your comment below.

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HOPE 2008: YouTomb, A Free Culture Hack


YouTomb is a research project designed by the MIT Free Culture group to track video take downs on YouTube. To succeed, the team needed to track every single video on YouTube… which is close to impossible. Instead, they built several “explorer” scripts to track what videos were interesting. One explorer tracks all of YouTube’s lists: recommended, featured, most active, and more. Another explorer picks up every video submitted to YouTube, and a third crawls Technorati.

The explorers just find the videos; a separate group of scanner scripts checks the current status of videos. It checks both the new videos and ones that have been killed to see if they return. YouTomb archives every video it finds. They display the thumbnail of the video under fair use, but they’re still determining whether they can display each video in full.

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