youtube-dl and Google

Mar 14, 2022

It took less than a year for youtube-dl (2006) to spring up after YouTube (2006) was created. youtube-dl is an open-source program that, well, downloads YouTube videos for free. Any format, any quality, full playlists, just audio, remove ads, and pretty much whatever functionality you would want for a program that downloads videos.

The program is still going strong today, with over 100,000 stars on GitHub, 7,400 forks, and extremely clear (and easy) download and usage instructions. Google has known about youtube-dl for decades, yet has take no action against the developers besides minimally rate-limiting downloads from the program.

Why would Google want to take down youtube-dl?
  • youtube-dl potentially exposes Google to copyright issues. In 2020, the RIAA unsuccessfully issued a DMCA takedown notice to GitHub to remove the source code and 17 other derivatives. YouTube has deep ties to Viacom, Sony, Universal, Warner, and other media partners.
  • YouTube offers downloads as part of its YouTube Premium ($12/mo) service.
  • youtube-dl is used by bandwidth-heavy power users and costs $XX million/year to support. These users do not drive ad revenue.
Why does Google continue let youtube-dl exist?
  • Devil you know. Google could detect and prevent third party video downloading today. However, there will always be new adversarial techniques that circumvent detection. Google knows and understands the code for youtube-dl (and most likely has relationships with the developers).
  • It's not worth it. Google is a data driven company and has done the math on youtube-dl. It may even make the users who occasionally download videos watch more ad-supported videos on the site. Taking the software down would be bad press for Google.

Google walks the same fine line with AdBlock Plus on Chrome.