Sunday, July 15, 2012

Philip Matesanz, a 21-year-old German student studying computer science, believes that it should be easy to convert YouTube videos into downloadable .mp3s. His website, youtube-mp3.org, allows its more than one million daily users to do exactly that.

Google, however, disagrees. Last month, it reportedly sent Matesanz a cease-and-desist, claiming that his site’s function violates YouTube’s terms of service. The site is still up, but it no longer works as advertised.

In response to Google’s threat of legal action, Matesanz did two things: he turned to two experts in Germany to examine his case (they have produced reports defending Matesanz) and he asked his users and supporters to sign an online petition defending his site.

That petition took off like wildfire and now has more than 770,000 signatures from users across the world in just over two weeks.

In the petition, Matesanz draws a historical parallel between Google, YouTube and the content providers of yesteryear:

“For decades, people were allowed to take a private copy of a public broadcast,” reads the petition.

“You could record the radio program with a cassette recorder or make a copy of your favorite movie by using a video recorder. All these techniques have been opposed heavily in its early years by the big media companies who didn’t want the public to have such technology. Several years later history is about to repeat: Google has teamed up with the RIAA to make the same claims against all sorts of online recording tools for their 21th century broadcasting service.”

The core of the dispute involves youtube-mp3.org’s method of creating MP3s.

Google’s cease-and-desist letter reportedly claims that the site violates the terms of service of YouTube’s API, which prohibits using the API for downloading content as opposed to streaming it. However, Matesanz holds that his site doesn’t use the YouTube API, but gets data through another undisclosed means.

At a broader level, the youtube-mp3.org case is an example of the often conflicting interests of content providers and content consumers.

Google and YouTube make money from advertisements included with and alongside content streamed directly from YouTube; that money is lost when consumers convert streaming videos into MP3s. However, hundreds of thousands of YouTube users clearly desire a way to access YouTube audio content in MP3 form (perhaps for offline listening), a service which Google and YouTube do not provide.