Youtube videos

Is it legal to download YouTube videos? The truth explained

Many people use third party tools to download YouTube videos, but is it legal?

Sometimes the case is clear (for example, downloading TV shows or video clips is illegal), but what about other types of content? Is it still illegal to download YouTube videos, or are there times when you are allowed to do so?

Let’s take a closer look at the legality of downloading YouTube videos.

What does YouTube say about downloading videos?

It is essential to differentiate the two sides of the issue. On the one hand, there is the question of how YouTube sees the situation. On the other, there are the national laws of the country in which the download takes place.

So, let’s start with YouTube. When you watch a video on YouTube, you agree to abide by the company’s terms.

Here is the important part of YouTube Terms of Service:

You are not allowed to […] access, reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise use any part of the Service or any Content, except: (a) as expressly authorized by the Service; or (b) with the prior written permission of YouTube and, where applicable, the respective rights holders.

There is no room for interpretation; YouTube explicitly forbids you to download videos unless you have permission from the company itself.

Can YouTube ban you from downloading videos?

If you violate the terms of service, YouTube has a range of legal options. Theoretically, everything from a ban to a civil lawsuit could be on the table.

That said, YouTube has never sued anyone for uploading content. Several years ago, the company considered suing one of the largest YouTube video downloaders ( for violating terms of service, but backed down after the site refused to budge.

Interestingly, finally shut down in 2017 after Sony Music and Warner Bros. filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against it.

Is downloading YouTube videos illegal?

youtube downloader

We’ve learned that YouTube doesn’t like video downloaders, although it may be happy to turn a blind eye to them for the time being. But what about the law? Are you committing a crime if you upload a video to YouTube?

As is often the case, it depends. Let’s take a look at how US law views downloading YouTube videos.

When is downloading YouTube videos illegal?

In the United States, copyright law states that it is illegal to make a copy of content if you do not have permission from the copyright owner.

This applies to both copies for personal use and copies that you distribute or benefit from financially.

As such, downloading TV series, movies, sports clips, or any other copyrighted content on YouTube violates the law. This puts you at risk of a criminal trial. The situation is the same in the United Kingdom and in the European Union.

In practice, the chances of facing criminal prosecution, especially as an individual, are extraordinarily slim, but you are breaking the law anyway.

When is downloading YouTube videos legal?

We have established that uploading a video means you are still in violation of YouTube’s terms. We also know that if you download copyrighted content, you are breaking the law. But are there times when it’s legal to download YouTube videos?

Yes! You can use third-party YouTube downloaders to download videos for which copyright laws do not apply, or videos for which the copyright grants you the right to reproduce the video.

There are different types of videos that you can legally upload to YouTube:

  • Public domain: Public domain works occur when copyright has expired, been confiscated, waived, or unenforceable from inception. No one owns the video, which means members of the audience can reproduce and distribute the content freely.
  • Creative Commons: Creative Commons applies to works for which the artist has retained the copyright, but has given public permission to reproduce and distribute the work.
  • Copyleft: Copyleft grants anyone the right to reproduce, distribute and modify the work, as long as the same rights apply to derivative content. Read our article explaining copyright versus copyleft if you want to know more.

By digging a little on YouTube, you can find a lot of videos that fall into any of the above categories. Please keep in mind that downloading the videos still violates YouTube’s terms of service, but is not a criminal act.

The moral argument for downloading videos

Of course, there is also a moral issue surrounding the process of downloading YouTube videos.

In the same way that sites like MUO rely on ads to continue providing readers with free content, many YouTube personalities live off their channel’s income.

By downloading the video and sharing it with friends offline, you prevent the creator from clicking and by extension, reduce their income. In an extreme situation, the creator could sue for lost profits.

Are the authorities fighting a losing battle?

A quick glance at any search engine will reveal a plethora of sites, tools, and apps that allow you to download YouTube videos.

That’s probably why we haven’t heard from YouTube about any new lawsuits against the operators of the tools. It appears the company has decided that the difficulty of creating legally sealed cases against the sites is more of a problem than it is worth.

Anecdotal evidence even suggests that many YouTube download sites are licensed to serve Google ads. Perhaps Alphabet is more concerned with monetizing the vast traffic of these sites than penalizing them.

As was the case with piracy in the 2000s, it all turns into a mole game between apps / sites / tools and TV networks and record labels. As soon as a site is forced to go offline, a dozen new offers appear in its place.

Is it legal to download YouTube videos?

Let’s recap what we learned:

  • Downloading videos from YouTube violates YouTube’s terms of service and the company could sue you.

  • YouTube has shown no willingness to penalize users for downloading videos.

  • It is a criminal offense to download copyrighted videos without permission.

  • Some videos with the correct licenses are criminally legal to download.

And this all probably applies to every other video site, so be careful.


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