Monday, 02 November 2020 06:58

Free software group asks Microsoft to quit RIAA over youtube-dl takedown

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Free software group asks Microsoft to quit RIAA over youtube-dl takedown Image by Tymon Oziemblewski from Pixabay

The Software Freedom Conservancy, an organisation that helps promote, develop, improve and defend free and open source software, has asked Microsoft to resign from the Recording Industry Association of America after the RIAA forced the takedown of youtube-dl, a popular command-line script that can be used to download videos from YouTube and many other videos from the Internet, from GitHub, a code repository owned by Microsoft.

As iTWire reported, Microsoft is a member of the RIAA even though it is mainly a software company. The RIAA is a lobby group that represents the recording industry in the US.

In its takedown demand, the RIAA said: "The clear purpose of this source code is to (i) circumvent the technological protection measures used by authorised streaming services such as YouTube, and (ii) reproduce and distribute music videos and sound recordings owned by our member companies without authorisation for such use.

"We note that the source code is described on GitHub as 'a command-line program to download videos from YouTube.com and a few more sites'."

In a statement issued on 26 October, the SFC's Denver Gingerich said the organisation believed that youtube-dl has a large number of non-infringing uses, and listed the following:

  • It enables users to watch YouTube videos without installing any non-free software;
  • It enables the watching of YouTube at different speeds (including speeds YouTube does not offer) – an important feature for accessibility;
  • It changes the YouTube video quality setting manually when the user is more aware of bandwidth issues than YouTube's non-human algorithms;
  • It has the ability to download (and then, with other software, modify and reuse) freely licensed videos, such as those licensed under CC-BY; and
  • It provides various aids for journalists, including fact-checking, video analysis, and bandwidth-saving.

"We realise Microsoft, a paying member of the RIAA, has left themselves stuck between their industry association's abuses of the law and the needs of FOSS projects for which they provide infrastructure," Gingerich said.

"While under current law (which we object to), complying with the takedown notice is admittedly the fastest way to limit Microsoft's liability, we view Microsoft's membership in the RIAA as a much bigger liability to our community, now that Microsoft controls GitHub.

"We call on Microsoft to resign from the RIAA and remove their conflict of interest in this matter. This is an important opportunity for Microsoft to stand up for the values of software freedom."

Microsoft acquired GitHub in June 2018 for US$7.5 billion (A$9.79 billion) in Microsoft stock. Soon after the deal, many GitHub users said they would be moving their repositories off GitHub unless Microsoft stopped its work with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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