The Legal Issues Behind Downloading YouTube Music Videos

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Unless you've never used the internet before, you know that YouTube is a great place for watching videos. For the digital music fan, it's one of the best resources on the web for seeking out free videos starring your favorite artists and bands.

However, have you ever thought about the legal side of things when using software to download videos? People often assume that because the content is already free to stream, it's fine to download too.

In reality, you could be crossing more than one "legal" line without even knowing it.

The Question of Copyright

There is usually some form of copyright protection for most videos on the internet in order to protect the rights of the originator/record label. YouTube is no exception.

In order to stay firmly on the right side of the law, it's typically required that you use a particular service in the right way. In the case of YouTube, this would mean streaming only, via the website or some sort of app.

However, it's surely just fine to capture these same streams and save them to your computer, with something like an online YouTube downloader or offline video grabber, right? It's true that there are countless software apps and even online services that can download YouTube videos or convert YouTube videos to MP3s. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it's legal for every video you might find.

What it really boils down to is the content and what you end up doing with it. Some content on YouTube is covered by the Creative Commons License, which allows you more freedom, but most aren't.

This means that as a general rule if you do decide to download music videos, to only use the content for your own personal use, and never to distribute it. Now you're wondering about YouTube's restrictions on downloading videos; isn't that ignoring their rules?

Considering a Service's Terms of Use

All services have a rule book that you have to agree to. A rulebook, however, that not many of us tend to read through because they're usually rather lengthy. However, if you delve into YouTube's rules you'll find that you can only stream and not download.

This is evident in section 5, part B of their Terms of Service:

You shall not download any Content unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content. 

If a producer releases an original YouTube video that doesn't contain any copyrighted material, and they include a download link in the description, it's completely okay to download. The same is, of course, true for your own, non-copyrighted videos that you upload; you can re-download those through your account, where you can find a download button.

In part C, we read that we can not use video downloading services to save music videos:

You agree not to circumvent, disable or otherwise interfere with security-related features of the Service or features that prevent or restrict use or copying of any Content or enforce limitations on use of the Service or the Content therein.

From a moral point of view, downloading videos also takes away revenue from YouTube. Since in-video advertisements are a huge revenue generator for YouTube, watching a downloaded video without the ads is taking that potential revenue away.

This doesn't even take into account the revenue lost by producers when you download their content for free. You're stealing a song from a video you could have otherwise purchased from iTunes or the creators directly.

What's the Alternative?

One way YouTube is trying to tackle the issue of downloading videos and bring more value to its service is via YouTube Red (it used to be called YouTube Music Key).

It's a subscription service that not only lets you download videos for offline playback but also brings other benefits too, including no more advertisements and unlimited access to Google Play Music.