The RIAA took down the YouTube-dl GitHub repositories by filing a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) infringement notice with GitHub.
The world’s most popular software repository has been given a takedown notice to remove a popular open-source tool used to download YouTube videos, claiming that it’s being used to “copy and/or distribute” copyrighted works.
While GitHub states that this is a DMCA infringement notice, it is not a takedown request for a copyright violation. Instead, the notice states that the repository should be taken down because it allows for downloading copyrighted music and is therefore illegal under both the USA and German law.
Indeed, the comments in the youtube-dl source code make clear that the source code was designed and is marketed for the purpose of circumventing YouTube’s technological measures to enable unauthorized access to our member’s copyrighted works, and to make unauthorized copies and distributions thereof: they identify our member’s works, they note that the works are VEVO videos (virtually all of which are owned by our member companies), they acknowledge those works are licensed to YouTube under the YouTube standard license, and they use those examples in the source code to describe how to obtain unauthorized access to copies of our members’ works.
As others have noted, YouTube-dl is used for far more than just downloading YouTube videos, but also to download free documentaries, public domain videos, and other works.
In the meantime, those who still have YouTube-dl on their device, or can obtain it from a mirror, are able to continue using it as normal. As YouTube-dl is a fairly well-known and powerful tool, with over 72,000 stars on GitHub, it’s likely there are many other tools that rely on it for their YouTube-related capabilities.