Music industry against Uberspace: Video downloads are not copyright infringements!

EDRi's member Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte fights against the music industry's attempts to put a digital lock on open source software, that enable media, human rights defenders, archivists and many others to access essential content.

By Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (guest author) · March 9, 2022

For over a year now, the music industry has been taking action against the open source project youtube-dl. The youtube-dl software enables video and audio files from YouTube, as well as from other streaming platforms, to be stored locally. The ability to download such materials is absolutely vital to journalistic coverage, evidence preservation as well as creative purposes such as the creation of parodies or mashups. It is also lawful, since no effective technological protection measures are circumvented in this process.

YouTube videos have no digital locks

Copyright law prohibits the circumvention of effective technological protection measures as well as the distribution of programmes whose sole purpose it is to circumvent such measures. However, youtube-dl is no such programme. In Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte’s statement of defense to the music industry’s lawsuit, they show that YouTube videos are not locked up by technological protection measures. YouTube videos can be downloaded with just a few clicks via the browser – without the need for tools such as youtube-dl.

In contrast to real copy protection measures like encryption, there is no access restriction or secret “key” – YouTube itself provides all the information needed to download the videos, openly and without encryption. In addition, youtube-dl allows videos to be downloaded from many other websites without circumventing any technological protection measures. Uberspace as a hosting provider which merely hosts the website of the open source project youtube-dl is only obliged to block a website if it becomes aware of manifestly illegal content stored there. In the case of youtube-dl, there is clearly no such obvious violation of the law.

Lawful online activities must not be restricted under the pretext of copyright law

With its lawsuit, the music industry is once again putting pressure on a neutral provider of internet infrastructure under the pretext of copyright. This case poses particular risks to the freedom of the press and freedom of information: without the ability to download videos, the media would not be able to report on what is happening on social networks. Freedom of information is adversely affected if neutral network providers block content on demand without a court order in an effort to avoid the costs of a lawsuit.

Fortunately, Uberspace did not block the youtube-dl website in anticipatory obedience, but rather insists that a court should decide whether this open source programme really infringes copyright. To ensure that Uberspace does not bear the risks of the legal dispute for the defense of our fundamental rights all by itself, the Society for Civil Rights has decided to support Uberspace in these proceedings within the framework of GFF’s project control ©.

Music industry exerts pressure via detours

The programme code of youtube-dl is hosted on the open source software development platform GitHub. The official website of youtube-dl, which contains links to the youtube-dl software on GitHub, is in turn hosted by the German hosting provider Uberspace. The tool itself cannot even be found on Uberspace’s servers, but is merely referenced via a link. The music industry has already failed to have youtube-dl blocked from GitHub. After an initial decision to remove the repository, the platform, which belongs to the Microsoft group, came to the conclusion that youtube-dl is lawful and reinstated the youtube-dl repository. Similar to Sony Music’s injunction against Quad9, the music industry is now attempting to assert its will against a smaller, supposedly weaker company.

GFF’s statement of defense includes examples and testimonies that demonstrate the importance of video download tools for the media, NGOs and law enforcement agencies. These lawful online activities must not be restricted.

This article was first published here. Also available in German here.

(Contribution by: EDRi member Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte)