Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or expert on copyright law. This article is based on my own research and references from actual professionals. My research was limited to US copyright laws. Dig deeper if you are outside of the US.
If you're like me, you've probably found yourself listening to the same YouTube videos over and over. A YouTube to MP3 converter allows you to extract the audio from any YouTube URL and save it for your own offline use.
I did this recently with a motivational speech video I found myself watching quite often and I can now play it even when I'm offline.
As I was listening to it though, something dawned on me... Is this actually legal?!?
Also, as a YouTuber myself, I wanted to know what sorts of things I could copy from other videos to use in my own.
I'm not a lawyer or an expert in this sort of thing, but I did some of my own research and have concluded the following...
[Short Answer] Is It Illegal to Download YouTube Videos as MP3s?
The answer is that it is illegal to download any copyrighted materials without express permission. Downloading or "ripping" audio or video from YouTube for download is not illegal unless the content is copyrighted.
Also, ripping any audio content from videos is a violation of YouTube's terms of service. Keep in mind, YouTube's terms of service are not the same as US copyright laws and violating them is not in itself, illegal, although not recommended.
[Longer Answer] Is It Illegal to Download YouTube Videos as MP3s?
Look, it's 2020....We live in a Y.O.L.O. culture and many people are ok with taking risks.
So, it's worth asking, "is YouTube actually cracking down on people ripping video content and converting it to MP3 content?"
That answer isn't as black and white.
Years ago, Google and YouTube threatened to shut down the largest youtube to mp3 converter, YouTube-mp3.org. They claimed it was in direct violation to YouTube’s Terms of Service which prohibited capturing a video stream.
However, YouTube-MP3.org refused to comply and surprisingly, Google and YouTube eventually folded. They called their bluff and won.
It wasn't over though as major labels sued them in 2017 for violating their copyrights and wanted $150,000 per violation. YouTube-MP3.org eventually settled and closed up shop but dozens of other similar services stepped in to take their place.
Has any individual been charged for using one of these YouTube to MP3 services for personal use? I have yet to see any evidence that someone faced charges for downloading videos to mp3s for their own personal use. That doesn't make it legal but it is food for thought for you risk takers.
Should You Download Videos as MP3s?
My recommendation, no. Just avoid it.
Unless of course you have permission or something is listed as free to use even commercially.
Although your chances of getting in trouble are low even for downloading copyrighted materials as long as your downloads are for non-commercial use (pretty much 0 based on the total lack of precedents) it is still a risk that isn't worth taking in my opinion.
Just use the download to watch offline on mobile option built into YouTube if you want the option of offline audio OR use one of the methods that allows you to listen to audio while your screen is off.