youtube-dl, and Avoiding Pointless Copyright Problems

Yesterday, youtube-dl, a popular command-line utility to download YouTube videos, was taken down from GitHub. And, near as I can tell, the justification of the takedown is over sample links, where those links point to copyrighted material.

This seems flimsy, but I’ll leave it to the various attorneys to sort that out. Regardless, for the time being at least, youtube-dl is hampered by this move.

And it seems so pointless. AFAICT, there is nothing about those links that youtube-dl depended upon. They were samples, nothing more. The developers of youtube-dl could have used links to other materials and avoided some risk.

Major copyright holders are “ratcheting up” enforcement actions, as this incident and Twitch’s takedown wave as examples from just the past few days. And way too many Android developers use copyrighted materials for samples, whether that material shows up in library documentation or in Play Store listings.

And that’s a shame, because there is so much stuff that you get get that you can use freely, particularly with Creative Commons licenses:

I mean, seriously, you almost have to go completely out of your way to use stuff where you’re going to be at risk of a takedown. Yes, you like Olaf (because who doesn’t like snowmen?) and so you want to use screenshots from Frozen… but is it worth the risk of Disney coming after you?

Even big firms get this. Google can use copyrighted materials in a Play Store listing in part because they license this stuff. But a firm like Samsung – who can probably hire more attorneys than you can – uses placeholder data in their similar Play Store listing.

Now, it is entirely possible that even if youtube-dl would have used sample links to Creative Commons-licensed material that the RIAA would still have filed a takedown notice. It would have made an already-flimsy argument that much more flimsy. And if the point behind your app is to invite a takedown, as you intend to fight this in court, more power to you, and be sure to let us know where to contribute to your legal defense fund.

But, in general, you will have less risk if you use safer stuff for your sample content, rather than stuff whose copyrights are owned by people who like issuing takedowns. Unless the risk is the point, consider avoiding the risk.