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Is it legal to download YouTube videos?

Downloading YouTube videos: what you need to know

Is it legal to download YouTube videos?

Is it illegal to download YouTube video for personal use? Many people would answer that question by suggesting it's something of a 'grey' area. Actually it's pretty black and white.

Google owns YouTube and, as we all well know, Google pads out its rather fat wallet with money made through advertising. It provides free video content for you to enjoy at your leisure, and you return the favour in the form of a website 'hit'. The more visitors it records, the more money it can charge to display advertisments. Download the video to watch it offline and, although Google recorded a hit the first time you came to the video, you'll remove any money-making potential it has for your subsequent viewings. See also: How to download YouTube videos to your iPad.

Naturally, then, Google doesn't want you to side-step its advertising by downloading video content from YouTube. Neither do the creators of videos - including PC Advisor - who also make money from the adverts. But taking steps to avoid video streaming-quality issues and overstepping your data-download limit are surely common sense, and avoiding advertising isn't illegal. After all, in-browser ad blockers are legal – if a little unfair to the publisher when accessing free, ad-supported media - and no-one will pull you in front of a judge for leaving the room to make a cup of tea during a TV ad break. You can even skip the ads after a few seconds on most free catch-up TV sites, and more than likely fast-forward the ads on recorded programmes. See also: How to download YouTube videos to Android.

Consider the fact that lots of the people who create YouTube videos rely on the money they make from the adverts displayed on their clips. And downloading video from YouTube does breach Google's terms of service, too. Within Section 5.1 it states: "YouTube hereby grants you permission to access and use the Service, subject to the following express conditions, and you agree that your failure to adhere to any of these conditions shall constitute a breach of these Terms on your part: you agree not to access Content through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Website itself, the YouTube Player, or other means as YouTube may explicitly designate for this purpose. See also: How to download YouTube videos to your iPhone or iPod touch.

"You agree not to access Content for any reason other than your personal, non-commercial use solely as intended through and permitted by the normal functionality of the Service, and solely for Streaming. "Streaming" means a contemporaneous digital transmission of the material by YouTube via the Internet to a user operated Internet enabled device in such a manner that the data is intended for real-time viewing and not intended to be downloaded (either permanently or temporarily), copied, stored, or redistributed by the user.

"You shall not copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, or otherwise exploit any Content for any other purposes without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content."

In other words, you are permitted to view YouTube video only through Google's own website and apps. You are not, then, permitted to view YouTube video offline on your iPad, iPhone or Android device through a third-party app. TubeMate YouTube Downloader and similar apps are not found in Google Play, and you must look elsewhere on the web to download them. And while Apple may at times allow similar apps into its App Store, it doesn't own YouTube and, in any case, you'll often find they don't stay in the App Store for long.

Such third-party apps will continue to pop up on the web, and people will continue to use them to make available offline their favourite YouTube videos. Google might not be aware that you're using them to download content from YouTube, and even if it did any threats of banning you from the service are all but impossible to uphold. You don't need to be signed into your Google account to access YouTube. It's up to you to decide whether the practice of downloading video content from YouTube is morally correct.

Is it illegal to download YouTube videos: Piracy and copyright protection

A major concern with downloading YouTube video is the ease with which you can fall foul of copyright protection. You might think it's okay to download commercially available music or video for free, but media companies are not in the business of giving away their goods for free - and rightly so. The more people who follow your thinking, the less money they make, and the less money is awarded to the original content creators - often ordinary people struggling to make ends meet, just like you and me, who have spent both time and effort producing that content.

Google is hot on piracy. It encourages users to draw its attention to any videos that breach copyright and, where a video uses a soundtrack or other element owned by another person or company, it will award the original content creator any credit that arises from it.

We won't go into depth over the ins and outs of online piracy here, suffice to say that in order to stay on the right side of the law, any content you do download from the web, for which you do not own the copyright, must be for your personal use only. You must not distribute or financially benefit from that content. It must also come with the express permission of the copyright owner.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.

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