Downloading danger

c: | f: /

Copyright. Restrictions. Legal threats. DRM. Piracy. Alligators befriending canaries. There are lots of inexplicable things in this world, but the entertainment industry take some beating.

I wanted to grab a copy of a video I posted on YouTube several years ago. I could have waited until I got home and located the original file on my main machine but I was roaming on the laptop and just wanted to check something. So I hit the button in the Video Downloader plugin and was greeted with this message:

Download of YouTube video disabled!

The Chrome Web Store (i.e. Google) does not allow extensions to download videos from Youtube website. Therefore we removed this functionality for the Chrome Web Store.

Oooooh, it seems our high and mighty Google Overlords don’t want me downloading any content (even my own stuff, for which I — allegedly — own the copyright) from their own product (YouTube) using their own browser (Chrome).

But there are two loopholes:

  1. Use a browser extension that’s not hosted on the Chrome Web Store.
  2. Use a download helper on a different browser.

I switched to Firefox, hit the download button on the helper I had installed there, and the video was saved to my desktop in ten seconds flat.

So what’s the reason for forbidding downloads when it doesn’t actually forbid downloads? Even the tool I mentioned above has a link in the next paragraph to a tool that will work under Chrome for downloading YouTube videos. That’s like going into a shop, buying a gun and the owner refusing to sell you bullets in case you’re irresponsible, but telling you the guy next door sells them.

Copyright is broken

I simply cannot fathom this slavish adherence to the outdated notion of trying to enforce copyright in digital media. Even if Google’s lawyers had gotten to every vendor of every app on every browser and threatened them with removing their site from search results if they permitted YouTube downloading, I’d still be able to get a copy. How? By watching it and recording the stream directly off the graphics card overlay. It’s a framebuffer, not a space shuttle.

The only — only — way someone can prevent me from taking a copy of a video is to not permit me to see it in the first place. So, any aspiring filmmakers out there, follow these simple steps to guarantee the copyright rests only with you:

  1. Record your masterpiece.
  2. Eject the memory card.
  3. Put it on the ground.
  4. Set fire to it.

That’s the only safeguard. Once it’s digitised and goes near the Internet, it’s game over. Trying to control it in any way, shape or form through technology or the legal system is fruitless. If the entertainment industry weren’t so scared of the technology and actually embraced or even endorsed it, a lot of the headaches would go away.

I’ve already touched on the futility of fighting DVD piracy, how Apple don’t want you to backup your bought music and why ebook DRM creates a bad user experience. How long before the industries realise the countless billions spent on security and lawsuits to protect their arcane revenue streams can be better spent on modernising the experience for the end user, and relinquishing some of the vice-like control? Maybe even, y’know, pay the the people who make the content a decent amount for their hard work instead of promising them the earth, then keeping most of the cash in expenses?

Piracy and copyright control are two responses to a broken system. Instead of wasting time and money on the symptoms, fix the cause.

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