The world’s most popular software repository has been given a takedown notice to remove a popular open-source tool used to download YouTube videos, claiming that it’s being used to “copy and/or distribute” copyrighted works.
On Friday, a letter sent on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was published on GitHub, a website used to store and collaborate on software development now owned by Microsoft.
The letter listed 18 copies of youtube-dl, a well-known project that allowed users to easily download YouTube videos from the command line (which you can actually just do in some countries), and claimed they were being used for copyright violations.
And while it looks similar to a DMCA takedown notice — a document sent to a service hosting copyright material without approval to order its removal — the letter addressed the tool’s potential for copyright infringement, rather than examples of infringement actually occurring.
“The clear purpose of this source code is to (i) circumvent the technological protection measures used by authorized streaming services such as YouTube, and (ii) reproduce and distribute music videos and sound recordings owned by our member companies without authorization for such use,” the letter reads.
In response, GitHub has removed the projects from the service.
What’s wrong with hosting a tool that can download YouTube videos?
There’s nothing illegal about a tool that lets you download a YouTube video.
There’s a near-endless amount of content that you can legally download from the service: videos that are licensed through Creative Commons, has a lapsed copyright, or even belongs to you.
The youtube-dl project is popular among streamers who wish to have copies of their work and archivists hoping to save internet history.
But what the RIAA is accusing the project of is violating anti-circumvention rules enshrined in U.S. law. According to former Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins, the RIAA hasn’t proved the copyright violations listed in the letter have happened.
“This portion of the letter is dressed up like it’s a DMCA notice, but that’s sleight of hand. The “activity” that RIAA is claiming is unauthorized is hypothetical. And if a rightsholder were to authorize copying, that copying would (obviously) be authorized,” he tweeted.
This portion of the letter is dressed up like it's a DMCA notice, but that's sleight of hand. The "activity" that RIAA is claiming is unauthorized is hypothetical. And if a rightsholder were to authorize copying, that copying would (obviously) be authorized. pic.twitter.com/yfQOpyfAH6
— Parker Higgins (@xor) October 23, 2020
In this situation though, it’s like the RIAA is trying to stop the use of a hammer because it could be used to smash windows. And does that make sense? You be the judge.