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The Big Debate: Is It Illegal to Download YouTube Videos?

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There are hundreds of reasons why someone would want to download YouTube videos directly to their device. Regardless of their reasoning, the question still remains for those who are afraid to try is whether downloading YouTube videos is illegal or not.

The answer is not a solid yes or no. However, it does depend on what you are using the content for and what specific rights you have to the content. Let’s go into some of the specifics to make sure you are covered the next time you download a YouTube video.

YouTube’s Terms of Service

First, let’s take a look at the terms and conditions for using YouTube’s free service. It’s no surprise that the company wouldn’t want you to watch videos that have been uploaded to their platform anywhere but on their website. That’s how they make their money through advertisements. 

Their terms of service state that you are not allowed to download any content unless permitted by YouTube or the person who owns the copyright to the content. That is unless it’s copyright-free content such as Creative Commons – but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

If you are needing to obtain permission from the copyright owner, you’ll need to contact them directly and make sure to get written confirmation for your records.

The truth is, YouTube has not once sued a person or an entity for downloading videos from their platform. So the likelihood they would come after you is minimal unless you are using the copyrighted material for profit, causing a wave with a major big-time corporation.

Is Downloading YouTube Videos Against the Law?

According to the law in the United States, it is illegal to make a copy of any type of content that you do not legally own or have permission from the copyright owner to use.

Say you are downloading old video content from a YouTube account that you used to own, but can no longer gain access to. If you are downloading your own material, this isn’t against the law since you own the original content, and therefore don’t need permission.

When Is Downloading YouTube Videos Legal?

Thankfully, there are many solutions when looking for quality content to download for whatever your needs are.

  • Public Domain: This is content where the copyright has expired, been forfeited, waived, or deemed inapplicable from its creation.
  • Creative Commons: This is content to which the creator still owns the rights, but has granted access and permission for the public to use for whatever their needs are.
  • Copyleft: While still maintaining the same legal structure as copyright, copyleft material provides anyone the freedom to use the work, with the one exception being that any derivative work must offer the same rights as the original work.

Surprisingly enough, there is actually a lot of content out there on YouTube you can legally download to any device. Next time you head to YouTube to look for music or video content, type in what exactly you are looking for, followed by one of the above three categories.

For example, if you need background piano music for a video you are working on, type “Background Piano Music Public Domain” into the search engine. You’ll be prompted with several playlists and video options for you to choose from. It requires a little digging and listening, but you’ll absolutely be able to find what you need.

To sum it up, downloading videos from YouTube isn’t necessarily legal or illegal. It all depends on the type of content you are downloading, along with what permissions you have from the original copyright owner, if there is one.

If you aren’t sure if the content you are looking to download is safe and legal to use, err on the side of caution and avoid downloading it altogether. There are millions of videos available on YouTube that you will inevitably find something else that fits your specific needs.