There’s no denying that YouTube has gained phenomenal popularity over the years. As the world’s largest online video sharing platform, Youtube hosts the most diverse content, including music clips, entertainment vlogs, movies, documentaries, cooking recipes, DIY tutorials, and so much more. Every web user is bound to have used it at one point or another, for leisure or work purposes. Now, what if someone wanted to download a YouTube video directly on their device for personal use? Would that be legal? Despite a few exceptions, and while millions of users do it without a second thought, the short answer is no: Using a third-party tool to download YouTube videos is prohibited. The present guide explores this controversial topic and provides useful legal insights on YouTube downloads.
What YouTube Says
The platform is unequivocal. On its terms of service page, Youtube explicitly forbids users from copying, reproducing, broadcasting, selling, or exploiting any of its content without the consent of the platform or the content’s licensor. This means that, whenever you use YouTube, you agree to the company’s terms. At least in theory. In practice, however, the platform is well aware that millions of people download videos without authorization. This can expose users to a wide range of legal consequences, from account suspensions and bans to legal lawsuits. That said, if the platform did enforce these, it would certainly need a much larger team of lawyers to deal with the innumerable cases of copyright infringement.
What the Local Legislation Say
While YouTube may be inclined to turn a blind eye to instances of illegal downloads on its platform, countries have copyright laws in place to protect owners and what they share online. Content posted on YouTube is subject to strict laws in the United States, but also throughout the European Union and other nations worldwide. These make it illegal to download or copy any sort of video content without permission; fraudulent exploitation or use could result in lawsuits and trials. That said, if you want to download music streams to build a personal library, the chances of facing any legal prosecution are extremely slim. As harmless as this may seem for a casual user, this is considered breaking the law regardless, despite the hundreds of Youtube downloaders available with a simple search on Google or Bing.
We’ve seen that downloading, copying, and distributing YouTube videos is strictly prohibited in theory, both according to the company and regulatory organisms around the world. However, there are instances where downloading content for personal use is legal. Here’s a run-through of some example scenarios when it’s allowed:
- Public Domain: Whenever specific copyright has been forfeited, waves, or has expired, no one technically “owns” the right to that content. This means that members of the public can download and reproduce the content as they please.
- Creative Commons: Despite claiming ownership of it via copyright, many artists will choose to place their work under a creative commons license to grant users the right to copy and distribute their work legally.
- Copyleft: Works protected by a copyleft license aren’t subjected to the same strict regulations of copyright. Put simply, they allow the public to share or modify the content however they want, provided users allow that same right to their audience (derivative).
- YouTube Premium: A subscription to YouTube Premium grants many advantages, including a no-ads experience, background play when the app is closed, and limitless access to YouTube Music and YouTube Originals. Moreover, for just $12 a month, you earn the right to download any content of your choice, in all legality, across devices.
A Lost Battle?
The wide availability of third-party tools that enable users to download YouTube videos is indication enough that the platform is fighting an uphill battle. Technically, YouTube has never sued anyone for copyright infringement. Chances of this becoming a new “trend” are hardly conceivable. However, there’s the moral argument; should the public continue to exploit the platform’s content for free, thus engendering potential losses for content creators? After all, if Google decides to publicize these third-party websites and converters on its search result pages, people will inevitably continue to use them.
At the end of the day, while downloading YouTube videos is illegal and constitutes a breach of terms, the platform isn’t actively pursuing those who exploit its copyrighted content; although it could, in theory. While it would not be advisable to encourage anyone to download and duplicate videos without permission, it’s one of the most common practices on the internet. So, always exercise caution, and favor paid subscriptions to stay on the safe side.