If it is illegal to download videos and audios from YouTube due to copyright reasons, why are there so many YouTube to MP4 and MP3 download websites online?

For example, https://freevideotomp3.com/, one could reason about them just providing a way for users to download YouTube content, letting to these users the responsibility to decide whether they will use it for downloading free or copyrighted content.

However, most of these websites (just as youtube-mp3) have an internal cache which stores the already processed MP3/MP4 files, so if users download copyrighted material, they will store in their server copyrighted content, thus illegal distribution.

How can these websites live without getting sued by Google and friends?

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    It most definitely is not illegal. Know how I know? Every time you visit youtube, you need to download the video before you can view it, and download the audio before you can hear it. If it were illegal to download, there would be no point to youtube. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 0:37
  • I use 4K Video Downloader for YouTube, which is very convenient (e.g. just copy paste the channel URL to download all videos ever posted to that channel). My guess is that the software tricks YouTube into believing that I am just watching the video on YouTube as usual. So there is no way for YouTube to know that I'm downloading and saving it to my HD.
    – user43
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 9:01

3 Answers 3


It is, in most jurisdictions, not a crime to download YouTube videos.

For criminal law, the answer is that it is not illegal. In many jurisdictions, downloading music or video of any kind from the internet is not a crime. Thus, police has no power to punish you for downloading, and even less power to shutdown such "downloader" websites.

YouTube's Terms of Service seem to disallow such downloads so YouTube has the right to terminate the agreement with the downloader. They may prevent you from viewing any more videos, for example. However, I think Google does not even have a technical measure in place to do that.

Google is not interested in preventing you from using YouTube (its servers can handle that) and that is pretty much the only punishment it can use.

Google could use the Terms of Services to say that the downloader-websites are breaking them and thus should not have access to YouTube. The websites could be sued for breaking the Terms of Services (and the court could order them to stop) and Google can block those websites from accessing YouTube by technical measures. It appears it did so in at least one case.

Google could sue you (or the websites) for advertisement revenue loss, but it is unlikely.

In theory, Google loses advertisement revenue from the video playbacks you would have done on YouTube but did not play because you downloaded the video and played it offline (contrary to the Terms of Service). Google might attempt to sue a downloader website on this basis and try to make it give it money. It would be difficult for Google to prove that it deserves such money, though.

I cannot imagine how it would prove that "you would have played the video online, again, with advertisements, if you didn't download it. Note that when you replay a video from browser cache, advertisements do not replay.

Why Google doesn't sue downloader-website more often? It's expensive.

Google could pay a lot of money to shut down a website via court order but if it really wants to do so, they can apply a technical measure (such as IP block) instead. It is much cheaper and has the same effect.

This may change in the near future.

There's a some talk around about European court rulings and directives that may change this. It is quite possible that in the near future, even viewing illegally uploaded music on YouTube will be criminal. I find this doubtful because of the difficulty of proving knowledge ("How was I supposed to know that it wasn't an official clip?").

As for whether downloading to a file (as opposed to downloading to the browser cache) will become criminal, I really doubt that.

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    What you think about this? youtube-mp3.org/help-us
    – PedroD
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 17:41
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    Interesting. I greatly expanded my answer based on that. Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 19:53
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    @BCLC The law varies and admits exceptions. In my country, it is generally not illegal at all to download music from the internet. You cannot be punished in any way for it. However, there are exceptions. If you share music (via BitTorrent, for example), that is illegal and could be criminal. Also, if you use a website where it is patently clear that the website deals primarily in illegally uploaded material, you may also be doing something illegal. And finally, the rules for this may be changing given recent European rulings. I'll edit the answer. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 22:44
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    @PetrHudeček It's okay for you guys to download from YouTube? The US must not really like your country then? Since anti-piracy people sometimes argue that a download is a lost sale (or every several downloads is a lost sale), US artists (or US music companies or whatever) are kind of losing sales to your residents who are downloading from YouTube instead of buying it on iTunes? And another thing, it's okay to download but not okay to upload?
    – BCLC
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 23:19
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    @BLCL Uploading and downloading are indeed very different here, with uploading being much more frowned upon (by law) than downloading. Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 12:10

YouTube has commented on this topic in the past, stating (paraphrasing) that due to the amount of information that is uploaded to their sites, it simply cannot monitor whether the files are copyrighted with any accuracy or totality. They do have systems in place for standard due diligence and once they are made aware of copyrighted material, whether through trolling via programs designed to identify it, or by report from actual human beings (employees, artists, the public) the material is removed. That being said, it is often replaced in short order by another user or the same with another "handle". YouTube is not offering the material for consumption, they are only a clearinghouse, such that so long as it is in their disclosures are clear that the practice is not only frowned upon but is a definitive violation of their terms and conditions of use that result in the loss of account access, and they do actually, practice due diligence to help combat it, their exposure is limited at best. The individual who downloads copyrighted material has exposure, as does the individual who uploads it, but it would hardly be worthwhile to prosecute ( civilly or criminally) individual infringements as it is about as common as speeding.

  • Do you have any links to support your hearsay? The position of the person at YouTube who made this comment would also be relevant.
    – jimsug
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 5:38
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    This is not hearsay so much as the very real response of YouTube in myriad demands and suits throughout the years, widely reported on (the very defense used since the first music download sites first popped up decades ago). Relevant discussions exist in myriad forums on the topic of copyright and clearinghouse sites allowing unmonitored public uploading and downloading of intellectual property(in this case music - but also relevant are games, movies, ebooks, etc) from the beginning with Napster-currently YouTube/others. Google copyright Infringement YouTube Response for 100's of sites/cites.
    – gracey209
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 6:16
  • I believe the primary law behind this is the DMCA Title II, a.k.a. OCILLA.
    – feetwet
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 15:40

OK, I did some research on youtube-mp3.org and I ran across this:

if you want to convert YouTube video to MP3 files, you can do so provided that the material is not copyrighted and you are only using the MP3 file for your own personal use.

That came from this site: http://www.real.com/resources/youtube-to-mp3-converter/ So this proves my theory was right. If you only download them for your own use, like MP3 player, iPod, etc. You're fine. I can breathe better as well because I was a little anxious about this, because anything I download would/will be for my own private use.

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    "If you only download them for your own use" and the material is not copyrighted.
    – jimsug
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 5:37
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    @jimsug correctly points out that you are entirely ignored the second clause of the statement, which is important because almost everything on Youtube is copyrighted. If it doesn't announce itself as being in the public domain, it's almost certainly copyrighted, though some further fraction may be available under a permissive license. Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 17:29

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