Is it legal to download YouTube videos? Many people do, but does that mean it's okay? Here's what you need to know.
Many people use third party tools to download YouTube videos, but is it legal to do so?
Sometimes, the case is clear (for example, downloading TV shows or music videos is illegal), but what about other types of content? Is it always illegal to download videos from YouTube or are there occasions when you can?
Let's take a closer look at the legality of YouTube video download.
What YouTube says about downloading videos
It is essential to differentiate the two sides of the question. On the one hand, there is the question of how YouTube views the situation. On the other hand, there are the national laws of the country where the download takes place.
So, we'll start with YouTube. When you watch a video on YouTube, you agree to abide by the terms of the company.
Here is the important part of the gods:
You may not [...] access, reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, transmit, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise use any part of the Service or any Content except: (a) as expressly authorized by Service; or (b) with the written permission of YouTube and, if applicable, their respective rights holders.
There is no room for interpretation; YouTube explicitly prohibits you from downloading videos unless you have permission from the company itself.
YouTube may prohibit you from downloading videos
In the event of a breach of the Terms of Service, YouTube has a number of legal options available to you. In theory, everything from a ban to a civil lawsuit could be on the table.
That said, YouTube has never sued anyone for downloading content. Several years ago, the company considered suing one of YouTube's largest video downloaders (YouTube-MP3.org) for violating its Terms of Service, but backed off after the site refused to move.
Interestingly, YouTube-MP3.org eventually shut down in 2017 after Sony Music and Warner Bros filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against it.
Is downloading YouTube videos against the law?
We've learned that YouTube doesn't like video downloaders, although it might be happy to turn a blind eye to them for now. But what about the law? Are you committing a crime if you download a video from YouTube?
As often happens, it depends. Let's take a look at how US law treats YouTube video downloads.
When is downloading YouTube videos illegal?
In the United States, copyright law states that it is illegal to make a copy of the content unless you have permission from the copyright owner.
This applies to both copies for personal use and copies that you distribute or benefit financially from.
Therefore, downloading TV series, movies, sports clips or any other copyrighted content on YouTube is a violation of the law. It puts you at risk of facing a criminal trial. The situation is the same in the UK and in the European Union.
In practice, the possibility of facing a criminal case, especially as an individual, is extraordinarily small, but the law is being violated regardless.
When is it legal to download videos from YouTube?
We've established that downloading videos always violate YouTube's terms. We also know that if you download copyrighted content, you are breaking the law. But are there times when it is legal to download videos from YouTube?
Yup! You can use third parties to download videos for which copyright laws do not apply or videos for which copyright grants you the right to play the video.
There are several types of videos that you can legally download on YouTube:
- Public domain : Public domain works occur when copyright has expired, been lost, waived, or was inapplicable from the start. Nobody owns the video, which means that audience members can play and distribute the content freely.
- Creative Commons : Creative Commons applies to works for which the artist has retained the copyright, but has granted the public permission to reproduce and distribute the work.
- Copy left : copyleft grants anyone the right to reproduce, distribute and modify the work, provided that the same rights apply to derived contents. Read our article explaining copyright and copyleft if you want to know more.
With a little research on YouTube, you can find many videos that fall into one of the categories above. Remember, downloading the videos will still violate YouTube's Terms of Service, but will not constitute an illegal act.