Despite RIAA's Claim That YouTube-dl Is Infringing, Journalists Use It All The Time

from the substantial-non-infringing-uses dept

A few weeks ago we had a story about the RIAA getting GitHub to remove YouTube-dl using a bizarre form of copyright takedown. The RIAA claimed that the tool violated rules against circumventing DRM. Over at Freedom of the Press Foundation, Parker Higgins has highlighted how often this tool is used legitimately for journalism purposes, which is important. Under the Betamax standard, tools with substantial non-infringing uses should not run afoul of copyright law. Higgins' writeup is reposted here with permission.

The popular free software project “YouTube-dl” was removed from GitHub following a legal notice from the Recording Industry Association of America claiming it violates U.S. copyright law. According to the RIAA, the tool's “clear purpose” includes reproducing and distributing “music videos and sound recordings... without authorization.”

In fact, YouTube-dl is a powerful general purpose media tool that allows users to make local copies of media from a very broad range of sites. That versatility has secured it a place in the toolkits of many reporters, newsroom developers, and archivists. For now, the code remains available to download through YouTube-dl's own site, but the disruption of its development hub and the RIAA saber-rattling jeopardizes both the future of the software and the myriad journalistic workflows that depend on it.

Numerous reporters told Freedom of the Press Foundation that they rely on YouTube-dl when reporting on extremist or controversial content. &Oslashyvind Bye Skille, a journalist who has used YouTube-dl at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and as a fact checker with, said, “I have also used it to secure a good quality copy of video content from YouTube, Twitter, etc., in case the content gets taken down when we start reporting on it.” Skille pointed to a specific instance of videos connected to the terrorist murder of a Norwegian woman in Morocco. “Downloading the content does not necessarily mean we will re-publish it, but it is often important to secure it for documentation and further internal investigations.”

Justin Ling, a freelance investigative reporter who often covers security and extremism for outlets including Foreign Policy and VICE News, described the scenario of reporting on the rise of conspiracy theories as the relevant posts face removal and bans. YouTube “has been a crucial hub for QAnon organizing and propaganda: I've often used YouTube-dl to store those videos for my own benefit. Good thing, too, as YouTube often, without warning, mass-removes that sort of content, which can be ruinous for those of us using those YouTube accounts to trace the spread of these conspiracies.”

In other cases, local copies are necessary to conduct more rigorous analysis than is possible online, and journalists turn to YouTube-dl for the highest quality copy of the video available. John Bolger, a software developer and systems administrator who does freelance and data journalism, recounted the experience of reporting an award-winning investigation as the News Editor of the college paper the Hunter Envoy in 2012. In that story, the Envoy used video evidence to contradict official reports denying a police presence at an on-campus Occupy Wall Street protest.

“In order to reach my conclusions about the NYPD’s involvement... I had to watch this video hundreds of times—in slow motion, zoomed in, and looping over critical moments—in order to analyze the video I had to watch and manipulate it in ways that are just not possible” using the web interface. YouTube-dl is one effective method for downloading the video at the maximum possible resolution.

Jake, a member of the Chicago-based transparency group Lucy Parsons Labs, uses YouTube-dl to save copies of recorded incidents involving police use of force or abusive behavior. Once copied, the videos can be stored in an archive or modified before publication, such as by blurring the faces of bystanders or victims. “We have sometimes been able to take a closer look at individual frames after downloading with YouTube-dl to identify officers when they are not wearing their badges intentionally or obfuscating them with things to avoid accountability.”

One misinformation researcher told Freedom of the Press Foundation about using YouTube-dl to create a baseline for machine learning models developed to do automated real-time fact-checking. “While our production systems are designed to be used on live video streams, it's not feasible to test on live video. YouTube-dl allows us to greatly increase the speed of our research development and allow us to be able to actually test our software on a day-to-day basis, not just when politicians happen to have a speech.”

Similarly, a number of reporters described using YouTube-dl for nuts-and-bolts workflows such as transcribing videos they’re covering. Jeremy Gray, a data scientist with The Globe and Mail, described a Slack tool he provides to journalists to allow them to automatically transcribe their own interviews and, until Friday, to transcribe YouTube videos from a URL. “It used YouTube-dl, and now that part is broken.” Another journalist, who works at a “small-ish public media newsroom,” described a common situation where a reporter needs “a recording of a public meeting for a story but is on deadline and doesn’t want the hassle of recording the parts they want it in real time or wants the full file for something like AI transcription.”

That same journalist described how YouTube-dl helps address the challenge of incorporating user-generated content on-air. In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, their newsroom began expansive continuous coverage and sought to include photos and videos that locals had recorded. “We are scrupulous about making sure we get permission (and the person granting it actually owns the copyright), but especially right after an earthquake asking people to send the video to us specifically can be a much bigger ask than just allowing us to use it (if they even have a recording, which they probably don’t for a livestream), so often after getting permission I’d just download it straight from social media to transcode for TV.”

That use case is common. Reporters frequently need high-fidelity copies of video or audio tracks for publication or reporting. Ling, the freelance security reporter, said he also uses YouTube-dl to “get the best audio quality” when downloading copies of press conferences or news events “to grab snippets of audio for use in podcasts or radio work.”

Finally, numerous reporters described using YouTube-dl to download copies of their own works. Freedom of the Press Foundation has previously worked to help writers preserve portfolio copies of their articles, and to help full news archives stay online when the outlet itself is under threat. YouTube-dl plays an important role in that ecosystem as well.

GitHub has not publicly commented on its removal of one of its most popular repositories. Clearly, YouTube-dl in particular and the ability to download and manipulate online videos in general are an important part of the work of journalism and contemporary media literacy. Given the important role that YouTube-dl plays in public interest reporting and archiving, the RIAA’s efforts to have the tool removed represent an extraordinary overreach with the possibility for dramatic unforeseen consequences. We urge RIAA to reconsider its threat, and GitHub to reinstate the account in full.

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Filed Under: circumvention, copyright, dmca 1201, downloads, journalism, non-infringing uses, youtube-dl
Companies: riaa, youtube

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2020 @ 11:24am

    regardsless of who uses it, is there any difinitive proof that YouTube-dl is infringing? if yes, why kick up about it? if not, why is it still being dubbed as such a bad thing?
    recently, a person was fined for getting something banned using, i believe, dmca (please correct me with what was used if i'm wrong) and had to pay quite a bit. why can the likes of RIAA and MPAA etc throw dmca or other accusations at people and software companies and get away with absolutely nothing said, let alone done to them? if it's good for a single person, it should be good for massive companies and industries. i can only assume they have deeper pockets and can pay the judges more to turn blind eyes!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2020 @ 11:51am

    Downloading is killing streaming!

    It's much easier to disappear content when nobody can save a copy of it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2020 @ 11:54am


    i can only assume they have deeper pockets and

    Can use the legal system to bankrupt software developers, while losing all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Nov 2020 @ 12:25pm

    But, but.

    Dont the RIAA, monitor YT very well? or at least Overly?
    And is it because the Video With music that they have TAKEN OVER, could be sampled?

    Why couldnt they USE YT, as a repository, and install Lower quality music, NOT DVD Quality. Just so others may sample it and decide to FIND IT, from the Music industry.

    There is nothing saying that the music industry, has released Everything that needs to be in the public domain.
    Could they be hiding something, that could lead to the People that CREATE the music, thinking they ARNT getting all they deserve?(wow, there was a major Stink back 10-15 years ago)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Bobvious, 12 Nov 2020 @ 2:04pm

    Come now people

    It's like chisels (the sharper the better). Their “clear purpose” is to kill people, rather than open tins of paint, stir tins of paint, scrape over-paint, cut through paint on screws, turn screws, clean BBQ surfaces, remove rust, spread plaster, mix two-part adhesive, remove nail heads, lever up staples, tap down battery terminals, twist wires, etc.

    Allegedly, they can be used for splitting and paring timber, however those are just facetious, contrived "uses", meant to deflect from their real purpose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 12 Nov 2020 @ 3:06pm

    Actions taken by the MFIAA

    They're all evil. MPAA, RIAA, BSA, -- all evil.

    Attempting to divine some bright line to either justify some of their behavior, delineate other behavior as bad, separate the two, or do anything other than denounce it is like choosing "the nice racist shooter."

    No such thing. Don't give them the battleground, the battle, or the chance to be heard. They have (seriously, MPAA and RIAA) the ability to be heard very easily without our help.

    When they choose to remove our rights,

    Fuck them.



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Rekrul, 12 Nov 2020 @ 3:45pm

    For anyone who's interested, I made a Windows Batch script to simplify using YouTube-DL. It allows you to manually enter one URL at a time, or feed it a text file full of URLs to be downloaded in batch mode. You can set the number of simultaneous downloads in batch mode and set the number of retries for each URL. You can even save your settings. Failed downloads will have their URLs written to a text file in the download directory.

    This isn't my most recent version because that one is still a work in progress, but I've tested this one and it seems to work well. At the very least it won't do any harm. The help section is a little out of date, but is mostly accurate. Simply unzip and double-click under Windows 7-10 to run. It assumes that YouTube-DL.exe is in your system path or in the same directory as the script.

    For those who don't know, Windows Batch scripts are simply text files with the extension ".bat" so feel free to open it in Notepad and look through the code to make sure it doesn't do anything malicious. It creates secondary scripts to handle the downloads, but they should delete themselves when they finish.

    Note that I intentionally set it to NOT download playlists. I did this because I'd enter a video URL, not pay much attention to it and 30 minutes later, I'd find that it had downloaded a couple dozen videos that I wasn't interested in.

    If you use it, opinions and suggestions are welcome.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Nov 2020 @ 4:03pm

    Why does that sound familiar...

    According to the RIAA, the tool's “clear purpose” includes reproducing and distributing “music videos and sound recordings... without authorization.”

    Now what does that sound like, both the tech, the argument, and the kind of person who's making the argument...

    ... dang, it's on the tip of my tongue but for the life of me I just can't place it. I wonder if I remember it from a movie or something, better go check some old VHS' to see if that will spark a memory and allow me to remember where that's from.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2020 @ 7:29pm

    AnyVideoConverter does the same thing and I don't see anyone caring.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Nov 2020 @ 3:19am

    Re: Come now people

    Let's not get started on "screwdrivers", "crowbars", "cars", "library indexes", "road networks" and "matches", the purpose of which, in the logic provided by the copyright cult, is to primarily facilitate murder, grand theft, carjacking, terrorism, careless endangerment and arson.

    I mean, this is the language the RIAA and MPAA have carried over every bit of code which could be used to copy or store data so why should they change now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Nov 2020 @ 4:56am

    Re: Why does that sound familiar...

    It does sound as if they're about to go on with a metaphor about how a code to copy what is displayed on a monitor is to culture what the boston strangler is to a woman alone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    z! (profile), 13 Nov 2020 @ 9:17am

    Re: Downloading is killing streaming!

    I really wish people wouldn't use "disappear" as an active verb. That's like calling a question an "ask".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    TheDumberHalf, 13 Nov 2020 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re: Downloading is killing streaming!

    OH there are copies all right. In fact the community has been injecting the infringing code into other legitimate projects, even Github's own code. A war has been declared and the RIAA cannot win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Peter CM (profile), 13 Nov 2020 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Downloading is killing streaming!

    @z!: Usage and grammar are ultimately descriptive, not normative. What you're objecting to is "disappear" as a transitive verb, and that usage is already accepted by most dictionaries. (Ditto for "ask" as a noun.) You'll be happier if you learn to accept that language evolves. After all, what does it really matter how people express themselves, so long as their intended meaning is clear?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 14 Nov 2020 @ 12:57pm



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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