The Legality of Downloading Content from YouTube
A researched opinion
Teaching with YouTube content, either online or OFFline, for teaching purposes is Federally protected "fair use," according to Section 107 of the US Copyright Statute. https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.
YouTube's boilerplate copyright statement and terms of service cannot negate this historic and Federally granted right to teachers, researchers, and commentators who are using freely available copyrighted material for the purposes of teaching, commentary, parody, or research.
In addition to using the material as the teacher sees fit, the teacher has the copyright to transform/transfer/copy the material from one medium to another, such as, a handout, or making an excerpt of a video, or changing the file format or manner of playback. Changing the format of a video from online to thumbdrive so you can show it to your students is not piracy as long as the content was put out there for public consumption --and YouTube is about as public as it gets. In the same way, you can burn ALBUMS to CD and share them in class, and you can take pictures of Billboards and teach with them in your class --because Billboards are too big to bring into class! This broad protected teaching discretion applies to internet content whether it is viewing online or off. Federal Copyright Law protects HOW, WHEN, WHERE and in WHAT FORMAT we use copyrighted to teach with.
YouTube cannot force a teacher to "show their ads" any more than any curriculum provider can "require" students see ads in their material. It's great that they are sharing ad-revenue with the artists who post their material FOR FREE on YouTube, but the copyright holders are under no illusion that people are reading all the ads, or can be forced to. It's a massive grey area.
YouTube's terms of service (TOS) which you may or may not have agreed to as a user, states that downloading a video and viewing it "offline" violates their terms of service, Why? Because they want everyone to see their advertisements online. However, teachers are not compelled to show ANY advertising to their students.
As long as the change in format (such as from online to downloaded file) and location of use (such as on YouTube, or on a tablet that doesn't have the internet) continues to be for teaching purposes, it is protected use.
- Imagine being told your students can only read a free book "within the bookstore," and that they must also read the advertisements that come with the book. (YouTube being "the bookstore.")
- Imagine being told that you can only teach with a DVD -provided you show your students the trailer ads for other movies also included in that movie.
- Imagine being told that you cannot convert your VHS tapes to DVDs, or can't convert a video file to a format that would allow you to project it to your students?
- Imagine being told that you cannot SAVE a video for later viewing in the classroom?
Please note: This does not apply to pirated material. It only applies to material which the copyright holder has allowed to be circulated or sold. This is why you need to be careful about what you use from YouTube, ...making sure it has not been illegally posted. YouTube is continually evolving its tools to identify illegally posted content. And they are increasingly engaged with the internet legal community to protect legitimate "fair use."
If YouTube were selling their videos, we'd have to buy them. But they are giving them away and cannot compel us to watch their ads. And if we purchased them, we'd still have the right to transfer them to a different storage format and play them back without watching their ads.
Question: Is YouTube, in effect, "selling" you its "free" videos at the cost of making you watch ads? There is no legal precedent for this, no case law. On the other hand, there is ample legal precedent for not being forced to watch something. This is the conundrum of YouTube's technology, and many legal experts have noted that we are in a period of "feeling our way through" this brave new world of freely available -yet copyrighted and ad-surrounded content.
In the case of music videos, if you need to download a music video from YouTube to show it outside of YouTube's wrapper in a teaching situation or for the purposes of commentary, I strongly encourage you to BUY the song from iTunes or Google Play. It will cost you under $2 and meet your obligation to the copyright holder's rights and creativity. (As far as honoring YouTube's right to ad revenue, you probably spent enough time watching the video with its ads already.) In the US, we can legally purchase a song an store it on multiple devices for playback. Teachers can bring the song into the classroom and teach with the legally purchased song as well.
It's a brave new world, and as teachers, we need to do our best and have good intentions, but we should also not give up our historical and Federally protected rights.
YouTube's own "Fair Use" Foggy "Maybe"
Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister, author, and multi-media producer. He has been researching and writing about copyright law for Christian Education for a number of years.