In previous years, the primary means of obtaining copyrighted music illegally was peer to peer file sharing networks such as Gnutella, KaZaA, Napster, BearShare, WinMX and eDonkey. With the inception of the YouTube video sharing service, which is owned by Google, these peer to peer services have largely fallen into disuse in favor of Adobe Flash-based multimedia sharing services. YouTube gives its enormous user base the ability to upload any video or audio they wish. Though many uses of this technology are legitimate, others reproduce copyright holders' content without permission. This phenomenon has been observed by IT security professionals, record labels and technology journalists worldwide.
Legal authorities at Google have taken notice of a surge in sites that automate the process of stripping the audio content out of YouTube videos, thus resulting in a downloadable MP3 file of a potentially copyrighted song. Two of these sites, YouTube-MP3.org and Music-Clips.net have come under intense scrutiny by IT security professionals at Google. As a result, Google has issued notices to the owners and operators of these two sites requesting that their services be discontinued. However, this does not appear to be motivated by the obvious threat of copyright infringement. Rather, Google claims that these two sites exploit the YouTube API (Application Programming Interface) in a manner that is not permitted by the EULA (End User License Agreement) and Google's privacy policies. Google claims that the activities these sites perform violate the usage rights YouTube visitors agree to by utilizing the service.
There are two means by which sites like YouTube-MP3.org and Music-Clips.net can operate:
1. The site requests a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, also known as a "web address") from the user. Alternately, the site may request a song or artist name in order to look up relevant YouTube videos on its own. The site's server then downloads the FLV (Adobe Flash Video container format) and extracts the audio stream within. The MP3 file containing only the music content is then served to the user.
2. The site exploits Google's YouTube API code in order to extract the audio directly without downloading and manually processing the FLV file. This approach is more efficient and requires less resources at the server end. However, Google claims that this approach is in violation of the YouTube fair usage agreement.
YouTube-MP3.org has thus far refused to comply with Google's request to cease and desist their MP3 ripping activities, claiming that their site does not in any way violate Google's fair use agreement for the YouTube service. Its operators intend to keep the site online for the time being. Although the aforementioned sites are only two of dozens of sites that provide a similar service, these are the only two that Google has pursued tentative legal action against.
Even without the service that sites like YouTube-MP3.org and Music-Clips.net provide, technically savvy users such as IT security professionals are able to find their own ways to extract audio from YouTube videos. For example, numerous plug-ins and add-ons exist for the Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers that allow a user to extract video and audio, separately or together, from any YouTube video they wish. It remains to be seen if Google will make their stance on the existence and usage of this type of software clear. Although these applications automate the process of ripping YouTube content, they are not for profit (whereas ripping sites can earn ad revenue each time the site is used.)