Questions of ownership, copyright, and legal use have plagued the Internet since the earliest days of its mainstream adoption.
From the infamous Napster days to people trying to copyright tweets, there have always been egregious examples of abuse from both the owners of digital media and the people using it, but despite the continued maturation of the Internet, there is still a lot of grey area in many places, and YouTube can sometimes be one such place.
The question we’re dealing with here—is screen recording illegal—is relatively straight forward to answer in theoretical terms, but, practically speaking, there is more grey area than you might think. But before we get into those grey areas, let’s state a couple of important, unequivocal truths.
- You don’t have the right to use any copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holder
- Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice
No matter what we have to say about the practicality of using potentially copyrighted content, it is a legal no no. That’s the unvarnished truth of the matter. We are going to lay out some information in this post that may lead you to believe the risk is so minimal you can ignore it, but that’s entirely your decision.
We do not advocate you doing anything illegal, nor do we advocate breaking YouTube’s terms of service.
Is Screen Recording YouTube Illegal
To start with, we’re going to answer the question in the simplest possible terms.
If a video is not licensed under creative commons or public domain, it is illegal to do anything with the video without the owner’s permission. Furthermore, screen recording is against YouTube’s terms of service.
Now, breaking YouTube terms of service is not illegal, but YouTube would certainly have grounds to kick you from the platform – if they wanted to, and you’d been caught doing it. They could even take you to court if they wanted to (though that would be very unlikely).
So, is screen recording YouTube illegal? Sometimes, but it is against YouTube terms of service all the time. Let’s dig a little deeper.
What is Screen Recording?
YouTube does not permit downloads of videos on their platform, so the only way to get content off of the site is essentially to stream it and grab the data as it comes.
There are third party services and applications that can do this quickly, but beyond those, your only option is screen recording.
Screen recording is exactly what it sounds like; you are recording what is on the screen of your device (it could be your phone, laptop, computer, etc.), wart and all.
That means that if you move the mouse and the play/pause buttons pop up mid-video, that will be in your screen recorded version as well. It’s not perfect, but it’s a way of getting the video without YouTube noticing.
It’s worth noting that any discussion over what is allowed and what is legal only become relevant to situations where one is caught doing the thing that may or may not be illegal.
Now, once again, we are not suggesting you break any laws or terms of service, and if you do so, you do so at your own risk. That being said, at the time of writing this post, there is no way for YouTube to know if you are screen recording.
This means that, while the act of screen recording may break YouTube’s terms of service, you would never be caught for doing that alone. It is what you do afterwards that gives you away. If you record someone’s video and then re-upload it, it’s a pretty dead giveaway that you’ve acquired that video against YouTube terms of service. For the most part, YouTube would not take any action without prompting since YouTube don’t know that you didn’t get permission, but if the original content creator reported you, you could lose your account.
Is it Legal to Screen Record YouTube if it’s For Personal Use?
This one is a common misconception on the Internet; if you are not distributing the video, reuploading it, or using it in public or commercial project, is it still illegal? Yes. Absolutely. Or, rather, the legality is unchanged by what you do afterwards.
There are two main factors that contribute to this misconception.
The first is the fact that, as we mentioned above, the chances of you getting caught if you don’t do anything publicly with the video are so slim as to be practically negligible.
The other thing that fuels this erroneous notion is the fact that you can watch YouTube for free, and if you can watch it for free, what difference does it make if you’re watching it on YouTube or on your own device?
On the first point, a slim chance of being caught is not the same as being legal or allowed. If you are stealing copyrighted material, you might get away with it, but it is still illegal.
If it helps, remember that there is no fundamental difference between a twelve-minute video made by a YouTuber and a blockbuster movie on Netflix when it comes to downloading that content against the platform’s terms of service.
On the second point, while it is true that you can watch YouTube content for without paying a fee to do so, it is not quite free. YouTube earns revenue from you being on their platform through ads and other means, and you watching the content away from YouTube deprives them of that revenue.
Of course, the fact that they have justification to enforce a no-download policy is a moot point—those are the terms they have established if you want to use their platform.
What are the consequences for screen recording YouTube Videos?
While we would like to reiterate once again that we do advocate breaking terms of service or laws, we thought we’d touch on some consequences you can look forward to if you do decide to screen record YouTube content.
Probably the two most significant factors here is the financial might of the copyright holder and the visibility of your subsequent actions with their copyrighted content.
If you screen record a public domain video, you are not breaking any laws, but you could still face a slap on the wrist from YouTube for breaking their terms of service. On the other hand, if you record the latest blockbuster movie and redistribute it with impunity, you could face serious legal repercussions, since movie studios have a lot of money and aren’t afraid to make an example of you as a deterrent to others.
What About Fair Use? Is it fair use to Screen Record YouTube videos?
Fair use is an idealistic concept that gets very messy in reality.
The first thing to note about fair use is that it is a case-by-case legal defence, not a right or protection. That means that no matter how clearly in the spirit of fair use you might be, if a person or company decided to take you to court, you would still have to go and defend yourself, with all the financial implications that brings.
However, in practice, online media platforms with user-generated content like YouTube are set up to make life easier for the copyright holder, meaning any dispute between you and a large corporation like a movie studio or music label would likely result in your content coming down regardless, leaving you to take them to court if you felt strongly enough about it (and had deep enough pockets).
Given the context of this post, however, it should be noted that fair use applies to how the content is put to use, not how you get the content. Screen recording is a method of acquiring said video, and is completely unrelated to whether you may or may not be using it fairly afterwards, as it against YouTube’s terms of service.
You could be using copyrighted materials in the fairest way possible, and it would still be against YouTube’s terms of service if you acquired the video by screen recording it.
It’s worth remembering that YouTube need to first have their attention be brought to you and second have reason to believe you are screen recording YouTube videos before they would go to the trouble of taking action against you on those grounds, and both things are unlikely if you are being sensible.
But, at the same time, should YouTube decide to take action against you, it could just be a strike, it could be a suspension or ban, it could even be a civil lawsuit. The fact that the latter is extremely unlikely doesn’t make it impossible, so know what you might be getting yourself into.
If you are using other YouTuber’s content as clips in a way that very reasonably comes under fair use, we would advise seeking permission from the creator first.
If you put a video up with content from other videos, YouTube can’t know that you didn’t get it directly from the original creator, but if that creator complains to YouTube that you are stealing their content, it’s a pretty clear sign that you’ve broken their terms of service about not downloading or recording YouTube videos.