Viral videos are one of the latest byproducts of the ever-increasing popularity of social media outlets. Instead of slogging through the process of having to email a funny video to your friend, you can now share that video with all of your friends in one click. One of your friends does the same, and then one of their friends, and then one of their friends and a viral video is born. This chain effect may have been a desired outcome from a concerted advertising effort by a company, a private individual’s shot at their 15 minutes as fame, or even a complete fluke.
You have probably watched viral videos and other videos through a variety of platforms. What you may not know is that you could be watching an illegally downloaded video.
What downloading or sharing of videos is allowed?
Downloading Videos from YouTube
YouTube provides the ability for uploaded videos to be downloaded by users. This is an optional service that must be selected by the person uploading the video. In theory, the uploader of the video is the copyright holder of the video and can legally make the decision to allow downloading of their video. Under YouTube’s Terms and Service the uploader warrants that they are the copyright holder by uploading, however, there is no “check” that this is true.
There are various ways available online which allow people to illegally download videos from YouTube, even if the option is not available through YouTube for the specific video. This is both against YouTube’s terms of service and likely copyright infringement.
YouTube provides the ability to share videos across a wide variety of online platforms, such as Facebook and via email. According to their Terms of Service, you can distribute (e.g., share) videos from YouTube IF YouTube has made that option available for the particular video. If the option is available to share a video it generally means that the person that uploaded the video has implicitly given license to share their work in that way.
Videos can be illegally shared after being illegally downloaded. For example, a person may illegally download a viral video and then share it on their Facebook page in order to gain more views. This is against YouTube’s Terms of Service and copyright laws. Next, another person may see the video and re-share it. This is also against YouTube’s Terms of Service and copyright laws, whether or not the person was aware the video was illegally downloaded and shared.
Why Should You Take the Legal Route for Downloading and Sharing?
Most obviously, you should always follow the rule of law. If you are found to have downloaded and/or shared a copyrighted video without the permission of the copyright owner, you will likely have committed copyright infringement and contract violation. What contract you ask? By using YouTube’s service, you are agreeing to their terms of service. If you violate those terms, you are technically violating a contract.
The consequences of these violations can range widely. You may simply be required to pay the regular price of the download. On the other end of the spectrum, you may be required to pay to fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or even jail time.
In addition to the legal consequences of illegal downloading, the methods that make the illegal downloading of videos capable may open you up to other potential risks. For example, the websites that allow you to illegally download videos can infect your computer with viruses and spyware.
How Can You Legally Download or Share Videos?
This is an easy one! YouTube actually wants you to download and share the videos on their site. Further, the person who uploads the video often wants the same thing. It is legal to download and share videos provided by YouTube if you follow their conditions of use.
YouTube provides methods to download and share videos. Further, they also provide an embeddable player to use on your website (the video will play on your website in a YouTube player versus using a link back to the video on YouTube’s website.) By using one of their methods of download or sharing, the new viewer will be directed back to YouTube’s website or see their branding and be able to see the source of the video.
What Can You Do With Legally Downloaded or Shared Videos?
Probably not a whole lot. In general, a video downloaded legally from YouTube can only be downloaded for the purpose of personal viewing. This means that you likely cannot share or modify the video without committing copyright infringement.
The one exception to this general rule is “Fair Use”. This is an exception to exclusive rights of a copyrighted work. To determine if your use fits this exception four factors are considered:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such a use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a while; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
In general, the specific parameters of what you can, or cannot, do with the video will be directed by the specific Terms of Service and copyright law. So remember, if you are using a capability provided to you by YouTube for your own enjoyment or simple sharing you are likely safe.