Google is threatening legal action against popular websites, such as YouTube-MP3.org and Music-Clips.net, that convert the audio portion of YouTube videos into MP3s. Google alleges these sites allow users to download content directly from YouTube for free, constituting a breach of YouTube’s Terms of Service.

Converting YouTube content to MP3s has become more popular since the demise of file host Megaupload in January 2012, which made free media more scarce. It is more difficult to identify and prosecute individuals using the YouTube conversion sites than “torrent” users downloading music and movies via services that aggregate small portions of the complete content from many different web sources concurrently.

Major record companies have pressured YouTube to do more to halt the proliferation of MP3 conversion services. The Recording Industry Association of America cited the issue in a December 2011 report on how well Google protects copyrighted material, also stating that, “YouTube hosts videos explaining how to ‘game’ the Content ID system, and how to rip the audio content to create an MP3 file from a music video.”

Google demands that the conversion sites cease using the YouTube Application Programming Interface (API) to allow users to “separate, isolate, or modify the audio or video components of any YouTube audiovisual content.” It has blocked YouTube-MP3.org’s servers from accessing YouTube.

YouTube-MP3.org’s owner responded with a statement claiming that the site does not actually utilize the API and that “German [c]ourts have ruled that an online recording tool is not different from any [TV] recorder or something [comparable].”

Google is, of course, the parent company of YouTube. YouTube has made major investments to license music videos and allow users to incorporate free music into their clips. It must now balance this proprietary interest in premium media with Google’s advocacy of free culture and an Internet free of censorship.

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