For the last few years we’ve offered a very basic tool for downloading YouTube videos that allowed users to enter the URL of any video to immediately get a link to a downloadable file. The tool does exactly the same thing as dozens of other sites and plugins, which have emerged because YouTube has long refused to offer similar functionality through its own site. Now, in light of yesterday’s news that the site is going to begin supporting downloads for a small number of videos, YouTube has apparently decided to crack down on these tools – and it looks like they’re making an example out of us.
In the last 24 hours our tool stopped working, but every other method I’ve tried has worked fine so far, including a handful of other websites and popular Firefox extensions. It’s possible that YouTube was just disabling a certain technique of creating links to their video files that we happened to use, but it’s more likely that they singled us out (our tool has become very popular, and ranks second when you run a Google search for “download YouTube“).
When asked why our tool was being disabled, A YouTube spokesman referred us to this portion of the site’s Terms of Service (the company had a similar response when they sent us a Cease and Desist back in 2006):
Section 5. Your Use of Content on the Site
Part B. You may access User Submissions for your information and personal use solely as intended through the provided functionality of the YouTube Website. You shall not copy or download any User Submission unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the YouTube Website for that User Submission.
The move isn’t particularly surprising. YouTube’s new download feature – and more importantly, the fact that it can charge for downloads – won’t become a viable cash cow unless the company can stifle these unauthorized downloads. But if this is the start of a trend then it is very premature. While you can download a handful of videos on YouTube, the vast majority of them still don’t offer that option, and users may soon be left with no alternative.
And even if YouTube can eliminate all of these tools, the downloads may well be too little, too late: most people already use iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix for their video downloads, and while YouTube may get a massive amount of traffic, it’s unclear if many people be willing to actually start paying for the brief clips that litter the site.