I've always been under the assumption that doing such was illegal. I don't see any difference between downloading music from YouTube and downloading music from The Pirate Bay.

Apparently, there is this Software Recs SE question that talks precisely about downloading from YouTube.

Related: Piracy/File sharing - Why aren't songs, movies or ebooks given for free (+ads) like TV?


3 Answers 3


It's not a crime per se, but you're breaching contract if you're accessing it by normal means, that is, through a Web browser or through the API.

Youtube Terms of Use 5B, emphasis added:

Content is provided to you AS IS. You may access Content for your information and personal use solely as intended through the provided functionality of the Service and as permitted under these Terms of Service. You shall not download any Content unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content. You shall not copy, reproduce, make available online or electronically transmit, publish, adapt, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, or otherwise exploit any Content for any other purposes without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content. YouTube and its licensors reserve all rights not expressly granted in and to the Service and the Content.

It is a breach of the Terms, which you agree to and are contractually bound by, to download Content unless Youtube allows it. Because Users license, the Content to Youtube, Youtube is entitled to recover loss of income from your breach of contract, including loss of advertising revenue, and possibly even punitive damages.

Legally, whether you can download it depends on the jurisdiction. It is generally acceptable to make a copy of media you purchase, however these rights do not generally extend to media purchased online, where you become bound by the terms of the service provider - in this case, Youtube.

The owner of the Content retains ownership rights and licenses derivation, reproduction and distribution rights to Youtube. That is, if the content owner made it available on some other website for viewing, then you would have the rights to download it for the purposes of viewing it. However, you would still not have distribution, adaptation or modification rights unless they were assigned to you by the content owner.

You may have a a Fair Use/Dealing defense for the content, depending on the purpose and nature of your usage. 17 U.S.C. § 107 outlines the considerations in a US Fair Use defense, which essentially boils down to:

  1. Nature and purpose of the use
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount of the copyrighted work used
  4. The effect of the use on the value of the copyrighted work

In the absence of case law to the contrary¹, the Terms of Use, copyright law, and fair use law are only legal principles we can rely upon in determining the legality of downloading content from Youtube.

1. It's possible that there is case law, but I've just spent a bit of time searching and haven't found any cases where end users were sued for downloading content.

  • 8
    Would I ever be legally considered to have agreed to these terms of service, if all I did was entering youtube-dl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXX into my command line?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 13:39
  • 2
    But what does the rule of law say about this? Copyright law says very specifically how you can and can't transfer, use, and archive copyrighted (video) content. Breaking the TOS certainly goes against whatever agreement you made with YouTube, but it doesn't really address the "legalities" of transferring and copying video content. Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 13:44
  • 2
    Assuming that downloading a Youtube video is a breach of Youtube's terms of service, what recourse would Youtube have? They don't hold the copyright to (most) videos. Could they sue the downloader for damages — what kind of damages? Could they forbid the downloader from using Youtube (can't they do that anyway for any reason other than protected reasons such as race and such)? Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 16:42
  • 7
    It is not banned by criminal law, but it is a breach of YouTube's contract. You cannot be sentenced to prison, but you can be sued by Google. Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 7:01
  • 3
    @PetrHudeček I understand that you can be sued by Google for downloading videos, but do you think you could be sued by Google for just making available a software or an online application for downloading videos ?
    – red-o-alf
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 17:45

Where might one run into legal problems?

Criminal liability

Maybe, by downloading a youtube video, one is breaking some kind of criminal law. The most obvious possibility is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which prescribes criminal penalties for certain flavors of copyright infringement. However, DMCA criminal penalties apply only to infringement for personal financial gain, so we can rule out criminal infringement under the DMCA without even asking whether anything one is doing constitutes copyright infringement. Another possibility is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA); it broadly prohibits gaining unauthorized access (or exceeding authorized access) to computer systems. Does downloading a video in flagrant disregard for youtube's ToS (more on that later) constitute "exceeding authorized access" or "gaining unauthorized access?" Maybe. Courts have sometimes interpreted the CFAA very broadly. See https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/criminal-ccips/legacy/2015/01/14/ccmanual.pdf.

Civil liability (breach of contract)

Maybe, by downloading a video off youtube, one is violating a contract: the Terms of Service agreement that one agreed to by using the site. As jimsug said, those Terms of Service do seem to prohibit downloading a video off youtube; the question is then whether or not they constitute a binding contract, and whether that provision is enforceable. While it's impossible to be sure of the enforceability of a particular self-proclaimed contract or term thereof, relevant concerns include:
  • Browsewrap vs clickwrap - Courts have generally held that clickwrap is much easier to enforce than browsewrap; it might thus conceivably be easier to enforce the ToS against a user who has created an account than one who has not.
  • The nature of the contract - is this contract a contract of adhesion? My (uneducated) guess would be "probably." Contracts of adhesion (form contracts offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis) are held to stricter standards of conscionability than other contracts.
  • Where are we? - Different courts are bound by different precedents, so jurisdiction/forum within the US may change how questions of enforceability and the such-like are resolved.

Civil liability (assorted other)

Maybe, by downloading a youtube video, one is committing some other kind of civil wrong. Perhaps, for instance, this constitutes illegal creation of a copy in violation of somebody's copyright. My best (uneducated) guess would be no; even if this is a generally prohibited activity, one would likely have a strong case for fair use.

The Daily Telegraph says YouTube download is a legal grey area: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/advice/10340296/Can-I-download-video-clips-from-YouTube.html And there's one thing that you need to know is "Fair Use". According to YouTube: Fair use is a legal doctrine that says you can reuse copyright-protected material under certain circumstances without getting permission from the copyright owner. As far as I know, parody is sort of fair use. You can download YouTube videos for personal use, and you can't post or share the downloaded videos to another platform or take these downloaded videos for commercial use. To get more infor, you check this: http://www.videoconverterfactory.com/tips/is-it-legal-to-download-youtube-videos.html Hope these can be helpful.

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