Users to YouTube: let us record your videos

If YouTube wants to be the future of broadcast, then it also has to support the DVR of tomorrow. That’s the main argument of a new online petition urging Google (s GOOG) to allow third-party tools and services that record content from YouTube, which has attracted more than 170,000 signatures in just three days.
The petition was launched in reaction to reports that Google has been sending cease-and-desist letters to, and other sites, demanding to take down offerings that allow users to download the audio tracks of YouTube videos. In the letter, a YouTube lawyer referred to the site’s Terms of Service, which don’t allow the downloading of content that isn’t made available for download by YouTube itself.
The petition, on the other hand, argues that downloading MP3 files from YouTube is simply an act of recording media, comparable to the DVR or even the cassette recorder. From the petition:

“For decades people were allowed to take a private copy of a public broadcast. 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: YouTube (“Broadcast yourself”).”

Contacted for this story, a YouTube spokesperson sent me a brief statement reiterating the Terms of Service argument:

“We have always taken violations of our Terms of Service seriously, and will continue to enforce these Terms of Service against sites that violate them.”

Video conversion and downloading tools for YouTube aren’t exactly new; numerous sites and apps have made use of the site’s MP4 streams to offer high-quality audio and video downloads in the past. Some of those also have gotten cease-and-desist letters before, but this recent wave seems to have received a bit more attention in part because the folks are the center of it are more media-savvy. The petition was started Friday by Philip Matesanz, who happens to also be the founding admin of as well, and his site now also features a prominent link to the petition.
However, there’s also an underlying trend here that makes this more of a pressing matter for YouTube – and it’s not necessarily any pressure from the record industry, as the petition alleges. As YouTube is stepping up its efforts to monetize content on the site, it has to make sure that its video views are actually counted, and that ads are displayed when people play any of its clips. Both isn’t possible when users download YouTube clips through third-party services.