The biggest ‘YouTube to mp3’ site in the world, youtube-mp3.org, is in court. But does that mean it’s illegal to use YouTube converters, or even operate one? Here’s a quick look at this complex issue, so you can stay safe and avoid getting sued.
Please note: this article deals primarily with US copyright law as it relates to ‘youtube to mp3’ video mp3 converters. We also briefly discuss German copyright law. And, we will be expanding this piece to include other countries soon. So let us know where you are reading this!
Here are some important issues to keep in mind. We hope they clarify some things for you.
(1) YouTube is 100% legal to use.
You can’t commit piracy or violate a copyright by streaming anything— at any time — on YouTube. So you are completely safe here.
But is it legal to convert YouTube music videos into downloads for later viewing? Or, make any other conversions of copyright videos? That remains a confusing question, so here are a few more things to keep in mind.
(2) YouTube isn’t suing anyone for converting videos.
YouTube says ‘stream-ripping’ is a violation of their Terms of Service (TOS). But, they’re not going to sue anyone for this.
Several years ago, Google and YouTube threatened to shut down the largest youtube to mp3 converter, YouTube-mp3.org. They argued that the site was in direct violation to YouTube’s Terms of Service, which prohibits capturing a video stream. That goes around YouTube’s code to convert mp3 files, which is against their rules.
Sounded pretty serious. But the operators of youtube-mp3.org refused to comply. And interestingly, YouTube folded, and decided to never prosecute youtube-mp3.org.
That sounded like the end of that, though Google refused to include the site in its ad network. They also promised to remove the converter from its search engine, based on TOS violations. Again, sounded pretty serious. But fast-forward to 2016, and youtube to mp3.org is still a top Google search result. And according to a recent music industry lawsuit, still runs Google-powered ads.
So it looks like Google really doesn’t care, even though converting videos into mp3s and mp4s violates their TOS. And as an individual user, you really don’t need to worry about a lawsuit from YouTube.
(3) It IS illegal to convert copyrighted music videos into downloads.
That said, nobody has been sued for this (yet).
Again, it is completely legal to watch any video you want on YouTube. Streaming from a legitimate site is permitted under copyright law. And if it doesn’t involve creating a video mp3 or download, you’re in the clear.
But, it IS illegal to create a personal download conversion of a copyrighted work under US copyright law. That includes an mp3, mp4, or any other download file type from your videos convert process.
In the future, it may become legal to download any video from YouTube, as long as it’s for personal use. But if a judge decides that, expect the music industry to go to war against YouTube and its converters.
Recommendation? The safe bet is to avoid downloading copyrighted works, converting mp3s, or using video mp3s to enjoy YouTube.
(4) It isn’t illegal to convert non-copyrighted videos into downloads.
German copyright owners actually sued YouTube-mp3.org over this very issue. They won the case, with a federal court determining that merely shifting formats is not illegal. Think of a VHS tape recorder making a personal duplication back in the 90s, and the same general principal applies. That is why youtube-mp3.org is still around today, and one of the largest in the world.
Here’s an example of a video you can legally download. It’s what’s called a ‘royalty free’ or ‘copyright free’ work. Go ahead, make a download of it!
(5) It IS illegal to convert copyrighted videos into downloads in Germany, the US, and many other countries.
This is very similar to downloading music from Kickasstorrents or the Pirate Bay. Or, grabbing a download from an mp3 site like MP3Skull. It’s a violation of copyright law, because you aren’t paying anything for it.
Converting copyrighted videos into downloads hasn’t yet resulted in lawsuits, fines, or threats. That said, the music industry is just becoming aware of this piracy threat. And we know that they are absolutely trying to bury youtube-mp3.org (and maybe a bunch of competitors as well).
Here’s an example of a music video you should convert into an mp4 or mp3.
(6) Why is it legal for YouTube-mp3.org and other youtube to mp3 converters to exist?
Youtube-mp3.org hasn’t been convicted of any crime, at least not yet. And the site may also be completely legal. But that all depends on what a federal judge decides. Deliberations over the law are happening as we write this.
Currently, in the US, this is a core issue in litigation between the music industry and Youtube-mp3.org. Music industry groups like the RIAA argue that YouTube-mp3.org is knowingly enabling piracy of copyright works. They allege that YouTube-mp3.org is illegal circumventing technological protections against downloading, and storing copies of copyrighted works on their servers.
Throughout, YouTube-mp3.org is profiting from these conversions by serving ads to users, according to the plaintiffs. Also, there are ‘anti-circumvention’ laws that prohibit technologies from defeating protections or security.
YouTube-mp3.org will probably argue that they don’t even know they’re violating copyright. Even if they keep track, they don’t know until after the fact, which makes enforcement difficult. How do they know it’s Beyonce, and not a baby video? That will be a major area of debate in the coming months.
(7) Why isn’t it illegal to stream music for free on YouTube again?
Copyright owners have permitted it, that’s why. YouTube also enjoys protection from a US-based law called the DMCA (and another variation in Europe). What does the DMCA state? Under the law, YouTube must remove unauthorized videos. But only the lawful copyright owner has issued an alert.
YouTube cannot be sued without first receiving a warning, and given the chance to respond.
The industry actually hates that law, but YouTube (and Google) have spent millions to protect it. The music industry thinks Google is abusing a loophole, while Google says it balances the needs of everyone.
YouTube says ContentID, a system used to identify and prevent uploads, is a powerful tool for content owners. But the industry says this system doesn’t work.
And the arguments go on. And on, and on. Essentially, a lot of people are suing one another for control over copyright. Google wants free rein, the industry unsurprisingly does not. So, stay tuned for more developments in this fight.
But, for the average user, none of this matters. Nobody is going to sue you for using YouTube.
But ‘Youtube to mp3’ video converters? That may become a problem in the coming months, with a few enforcement surprises ahead.
Maybe it becomes totally legal, or becomes completely illegal. Right now, it’s best to just follow the above rules, and stay safe. Then, check back here in a few months for an update on where things stand.
We hope that helped!
Top image by wonderferret (CC by 2.0).