Users Rise Up To Get YouTube MP3 Downloader Re-Instated
from the data-is-data dept
We recently wrote about the RIAA's latest target in their ongoing quest to kill any technology that could be used to infringe, regardless of its other purposes: sites that allow easy downloading of content from YouTube. We noted at the time how Google itself was participating in these efforts, and had blocked YouTube access by YouTube-MP3.org—a handy tool that quickly converted the audio track of any YouTube video into a downloadable mp3 (I've used it myself for plenty of legitimate purposes—most recently downloading a bunch of public domain tango classics). Of course, Google treats this as a terms of service issue, and even though it's likely that copyright pressure from the RIAA and others is a significant cause of their attitude towards such tools, they also have a motivation to keep users within the YouTube website.
Whatever Google's motivations, it should come as no surprise that the users—and providers—of such tools get pretty annoyed when they are blocked. Through PaidContent, we learn of a petition to Google launched by the founder of YouTube-MP3.org, asking the company to allow third-party recording tools. The petition, which is nearly at its goal of a million signatures, makes the case that this is how things have always been:
For decades people were allowed to take a private copy of a public broadcast. You could record the radio program with a cassette recorder or make a copy of your favorite movie by using a video recorder. All these techniques have been opposed heavily in its early years by the big media companies who didn't want the public to have such technology. They did describe such technology as criminal and as a threat to their business.
Several years later history is about to repeat: Google has teamed up with the RIAA to make the same claims against all sorts of online recording tools for their 21th century broadcasting service: YouTube ("Broadcast yourself"). Google is taking action against nearly every service that enables its users to create a private copy of a public YouTube broadcast while the RIAA is threatening news media like CNet for promoting such a software.
While I agree with the purpose of the petition, I actually think this description misses the mark. The real point is that recording is still entirely possible. With everything from screen capture software and programs like AudioHijack to the good old fashioned analog hole (where you could still use those same VCRs and cassette tapes if you wanted) there is just no way to stop it, which makes sense, because the simple fact is that the data is being transmitted to your computer. Your computer may be instructed to discard it soon after, and to not make it obvious where it's storing it in the mean time, but that data is still there and gets copied several times on the way from the server to your screen—it's just a matter of capturing and retaining one of those copies. Meanwhile, services like YouTube-MP3.org are not quite recording devices: rather than capture the data at the rate it is delivered to your computer for playback, they bypass the streaming interface to obtain a full copy of the source file. This is a technical distinction, but an important one—and it has potential legal implications, since the one way such a service could be seen to violate copyright law is under the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA.
That said, the fact that recording will always be possible highlights the silliness of blocking such tools and of anti-circumvention laws in general. The fact is that YouTube is making this data publicly available, and their servers obediently deliver the files. Blacklisting particular sites and citing "terms of service" is a weak response, and at its core is rather similar to websites that claim you need permission to link to them or to display them in an iframe within another website. Google knows as well as anyone that one of the true sources of the internet's potential is the ability to build on top of other services, and to build new services around other sources of data, so it's disappointing to see them block tools like this. Hopefully the growing response from users will spur them to rethink their position.