Is is right to download videos from YouTube using third-party download sites or software?
With how popular YouTube is, chances are you either had this question cross your mind, or didn’t even think about it and went to download videos using one of the free “YouTube video downloaders” available online.
My motivation behind writing this article is to provoke some thought on this topic as well as just in general about the ethics of breaking TOS (Terms of Service) agreements, software licenses, or EULAs (End User License Agreement).
Unfortunately, people feel safe doing things that so many others do. However, just because everyone else does it does not neccesarily make it right.
Should we use “YouTube video downloaders” or other software to download YouTube videos?
As far as I am concerned, I believe the answer is a clear no.
1. It’s against the YouTube Terms of Service (TOS) to download content outside of the player or download links they provide (more on that later). You agreed to these terms when you created the account, so I mean, that’s basically lying if you had no intent to abide by the terms.
The YouTube TOS states:
You are not allowed to […] access, reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise use any part of the Service or any Content except: (a) as expressly authorized by the Service; or (b) with prior written permission from YouTube and, if applicable, the respective rights holders.
2. The ads on these third-party YouTube video downloader sites are often malicious.
I’ve watched as someone used one of these sites (against my advice) where halfway through the download, a popup appeared with a download button to download malicious software. You could easily think that the popup was the download for your video, when it wasn’t.
Many of the ads are just downright deceptive and immoral which shows the sort of character the people running these sites have.
What is our standard?
Now, a disclaimer here: I used to download videos from YouTube using external software for offline viewing, before I knew that it was a violation of the YouTube TOS. However, ignorance isn’t much of an excuse and I no longer do so.
I think about how if I am willing to break the TOS to download a video from YouTube, then what keeps me from doing anything else against the terms?
In another sense, being a software developer that creates software and website licenses and terms myself, I have to ask myself another question:
If I am willing to disregard other websites terms then how can I expect others to abide by the terms or license I create for a website or software.
That would be hypocritical.
There is also copyright to think about. The video creators give YouTube a license to show the content through the platform, but that does not give you any right to use or watch the video outside of the platform.
As a video creator on YouTube myself, I think about how I feel about people downloading my videos without my permission and against YouTube’s TOC.
It’s not a good feeling.
It’s not “illegal”. Or is it?
Now, I’ve seen other articles and videos where people will say that downloading a video against the terms isn’t “illegal” in some cases, so it’s fine. However, YouTube could suspend your account and sue you for breach of their TOS.
YouTube has tried to take down these external download sites, but it seems they don’t because its too much hassle. Too many people download videos using these external sites and YouTube has never actually sued anyone for downloading content.
That said, this article is not about what is legal or illegal in the sense of what you can get away with. This is about whether it’s really right to download videos from YouTube using these external sites.
I think sometimes we get lazy and careless, especially if we don’t think something will be enforced. However, what’s wrong is still wrong even if you don’t see the consequences right away or at all.
Ultimately, if you’re a believer, what others do is of no consequence. Just because so many people do it and get away with it doesn’t make it okay. Is it right according to Scripture? That is the question.
From what I can see, just the fact that you have to break your word to disregard the YouTube terms of service in order to download videos from YouTube using external sites, gives a really clear clue.
“You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.” -Exodus 23:2a
Lying lips are an abomination to Yahweh, But those who deal truthfully are His delight. -Proverbs 12:22
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds -Colossians 3:9
An example to illustrate
Imagine you have a rental room at your house.
Now, you set certain rules which they must abide by during their stay, one of which is that anything in the room (towels, the mirror, the lamp, etc) must stay in the room. Imagine them, right after agreeing to the rules, take your stuff outside for one reason or another and saying, “well everyone else does it”.
I think we would all feel disrespected by the guest.
Well, if you download videos from YouTube using these external sites, especially if you don’t have permission from the creator, then you are not just disrespecting the platform but the creator too.
Is it ever right, then?
So, is there ever a time when it would be okay to download a video from YouTube using external sites?
Some people will point to CC (Creative Commons) licensed content or content where the creator says that users are free to download the video if they want.
The problem is, it’s still a violation of the YouTube TOS.
I once had a client that had two YouTube channels and wanted to combine them into one. One of the channels only had one video. However, they had forgotten their login information for the account. So they couldn’t just download the video through YouTube Studio and reupload it to the other channel.
There was the temptation to just use an external YouTube downloader to retrieve the video. After all, it was his video, right? It even had his name in the video title.
However, we both agreed that it wasn’t even an option to violate the TOS by doing so. Instead, I linked to the single video and that worked just fine.
Ethical, Legal Alternatives
Now, you’re probably wondering, “so what should I do if I’m on a limited data plan or want to watch videos offline for another reason?”
I see two ways someone could legally and ethically download a YouTube video:
It appears YouTube allows downloading videos for offline viewing with YouTube Premium. This is the what the “links that they provide” exception in the TOS refers to. Now, I’ve never had Premium myself but it is an option to consider if you are wanting offline videos.
Ask the creator for the video
Yes, it’s a hassle, but just ask the creator to give you a link to the video on Google drive, Dropbox, or another file sharing service.
This may actually be an even better option than YouTube Premium since you totally bypass any involvement of YouTube, acknowledge the creator, and get their direct permission to download their content. Now, obviously the creator is not always going to accept your request. They may say “no” for one reason or another, and that is understandable.
Other creators may already have a way for you to download their videos offline, though sometimes it is only via a paywall.
I think it is pretty clear that we should not be downloading videos from YouTube in ways that violate the YouTube TOS. Instead, we should be respectful of the platform and the creators and either subscribe to YouTube Premium or ask the creator for their video directly.