While the RIAA has objected to a tool for downloading online videos, EFF senior activist Elliot Harmon responds with this question. “Who died and put them in charge of YouTube?” He asks the question in a new video “explainer” on the controversy, and argues in a new piece at EFF.org that the youtube-dl tool “doesn’t infringe on any RIAA copyrights.” RIAA’s argument relies on a different section of the DMCA, Section 1201. DMCA 1201 says that it’s illegal to bypass a digital lock in order to access or modify a copyrighted work. Copyright holders have argued that it’s a violation of DMCA 1201 to bypass DRM even if you’re doing it for completely lawful purposes; for example, if you’re downloading a video on YouTube for the purpose of using it in a way that’s protected by fair use. (And thanks to the way that copyright law has been globalized via trade agreements, similar laws exist in many other jurisdictions too.) RIAA argues that since youtube-dl could be used to download music owned by RIAA-member labels, no one should be able to use the tool, even for completely lawful purposes. This is an egregious abuse of the notice-and-takedown system, which is intended to resolve disputes over allegedly infringing material online. Again, youtube-dl doesn’t use RIAA-member labels’ music in any way. The makers of youtube-dl simply shared information with the public about how to perform a certain task — one with many completely lawful applications. Harmon wants to hear from people using youtube-dl for lawful purposes. And he also links to an earlier EFF piece arguing that DMCA 1201 “is incredibly broad, apparently allowing rightsholders to legally harass any ‘trafficker’ in code that lets users re-take control of their devices from DRM locks…” And EFF’s concern over DMCA 1201 has been ongoing:
DMCA 1201 has been loaded with terrible implications for innovation and free expression since the day it was passed. For many years, EFF documented these issues in our “Unintended Consequences” series; we continue to organize and lobby for temporary exemptions to its provisions for the purposes of cellphone unlocking, restoring vintage videogames and similar fair uses, as well as file and defend lawsuits in the United States to try and mitigate its damage. We look forward to the day when it is no longer part of U.S. law. But due to the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions infest much of the world’s jurisdictions too, including the European Union via the Information Society Directive 2001/29/EC.

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