Wow, the likeable lawyers of the even more likeable RIAA just had a great success — well done. They managed to ban the open-source software youtube-dl and various forks from GitHub.

The only argument seems that that youtube-dl can bypass the rolling cipher of YouTube. This makes it possible to download videos and also the audio tracks from YouTube.

youtube-dl can bypass the rolling cipher of YouTube
youtube-dl can bypass the rolling cipher of YouTube

But the software does not only work with YouTube. It can handle many other platforms as well. The takedown notice is primarily aimed at YouTube.

What we need to keep in mind: If something from the Internet streams on my computer, I can save it one way or another. If the RIAA wants to prevent that nobody can save the content locally, it must switch the Internet off or stop distributing the content in question online.

The funny thing is that the RIAA seems to have been resistant to learning for decades. Prohibitions of this kind have been counterproductive in most cases. The RIAA also continued to advertise The Pirate Bay until it could no longer be switched off. Generations of new users were made aware of torrent platforms thanks to the RIAA’s advertising campaigns over many years.

I would be interested in the access numbers of the official website of youtube-dl. One could hardly wish for better publicity. Many media website report about the issue. Unlike most torrent portals, the developers of youtube-dl have not monetized their website — a shame — they would have made a fortune, I assume.

youtube-dl is still available

The official website of the project is still accessible and was rebuilt relatively quickly after the takedown notice. On the home page, there is a notice that the GitHub repository has been disabled because of the RIAA.

What I’d like to know at this point – how much could GitHub, now owned by Microsoft, have resisted? Could you have bought the project a little more time? For a short moment it looked like the project was dead.

According to the developers downloads work as usual. I wanted to check that and tested it. It is true — under Linux it is still straightforward to install the software:

sudo curl -L -o /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl
sudo chmod a+rx /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl

or if you don’t have curl:

sudo wget -O /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl
sudo chmod a+rx /usr/local/bin/youtube-dl

Alternatively, you can install and upgrade the software via pip installierbar:

sudo pip install --upgrade youtube_dl

or pip3

sudo pip3 install --upgrade youtube_dl

For this purpose pip or pip3 must be installed on the computer. The packages are called python3-pip or python-pip for Python 2.x.

What is currently missing (because of the GitHub issue) is the list of supported websites / streaming portals.

I use the software on several platforms from time to time. Primarily, I do this to get audiobooks on my smartwatch because the integrated media player is a bit quirky. To protect myself I use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when using software like youtube-dl.

NordVPN for youtube-dl*

But the lawyers of the RIAA live in their own weird world. In their eyes all people are criminals who use software like in this post for purely private use.

The future is open

The developers have not yet commented on the future of the project. But there is no need to worry. The software is public domain. So, as long as the source code buzzes around the Internet, someone will create a fork and continue — just as a defiant reaction. Prohibitions have never worked on such things, but as long as lawyers make good money running against windmills, the practice will not stop either.

Apart from the fact that youtube-dl continues to work, there are already alternatives. The relatively new you-get would be one option, but it does not (yet) support so many platforms and no audio downloads from YouTube. So, you have to download a video and extract the audio track manually. With FFmpeg this is really easy.

ffmpeg -i video.webm -q:a 0 -map a audio.mp3

JDownloader can also be used to download videos from YouTube and there are several other alternatives. Another nice option is ClipGrab — can extract audio tracks. For Linux it’s available as an AppImage.

Searching for an alternative to youtube-dl? Try ClipGrab!
ClipGrab is a really nice alternative to youtube-dl

All the programs mentioned in this post are available for Linux, macOS and Windows.

If you ask me: all RIAA did was advertising for youtube-dl and similar programs.