Youtube-dl is Back on Github: 'Our Priority Is Supporting Open Source'

After removing the popular tool for claims of copyright infringement, Github has done a 180-degree turn on that decision.
November 16, 2020, 6:02pm
Image Credit: Getty Images
Image Credit: Getty Images

Last month, Github removed youtube-dl, a popular open-source tool used for downloading and archiving videos from YouTube, following a copyright claim from the Recording Industry Association of America. In doing so, it cut off activists, historians, creators and journalists from an invaluable piece of software for archiving materials on the web.

Today, following an outcry from those communities and a counter-notice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Github reversed that decision and reinstated youtube-dl. 

In its letter, the RIAA cited section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which bans breaking digital locks as a copyright-circumvention technique. The EFF argued that youtube-dl isn't in violation of Section 1201, because the tool doesn't actually “circumvent” anything; it uses the same technical measures as any browser. 

"We are taking a stand for developers and have reinstated the youtube-dl repo," Github CEO Nat Friedman tweeted on Monday. "Section 1201 of the DMCA is broken and needs to be fixed. Developers should have the freedom to tinker. That's how you get great tools like youtube-dl."

"Although we did initially take the project down, we understand that just because code can be used to access copyrighted works doesn’t mean it can’t also be used to access works in non-infringing ways," Abby Volmer, director of platform policy at Github, wrote in an announcement posted to Github that said the tool is coming back online. "We also understood that this project’s code has many legitimate purposes, including changing playback speeds for accessibility, preserving evidence in the fight for human rights, aiding journalists in fact-checking, and downloading Creative Commons-licensed or public domain videos." 

In its letter requesting youtube-dl be taken down, the RIAA cited the works of Charli XCX, Justin Timberlake, and Taylor Swift as those needing copyright protection from the tool's uses. Elliot Harman, senior activist at the EFF, wrote last week that this is an abuse of DMCA; that the RIAA is arguing that since someone could theoretically use youtube-dl to download content owned by the association's member's labels, no one should be allowed to use it for any purpose. 

Volmer wrote that going forward, Github's technical experts will review "every single credible 1201 takedown claim," and that each claim will be "scrutinized" by legal experts as well. If the case is ambiguous, Github pledges to "err on the side of the developer" and leave the repo in question up. 

The platform also announced a $1 million developer defense fund to help developers fight back against specious DMCA Section 1202 takedown claims, specifically.