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YouTube has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Invidious, an open-source “alternative front-end” to the website which allows users to watch videos without having their data tracked, claiming it violates YouTube’s API policy and demanding that it be shut down within seven days.
“We recently became aware of your product or service, Invidious,” reads the letter, which was posted on the Invidious GitHub last week. “Your Client appears to be in violation of the YouTube API Services Terms of Service and Developer Policies.” The letter then delineates the policies which Invidious is accused of having violated, such as not displaying a link to YouTube’s Terms of Service or “clearly” explaining what it does with user information.
Invidious is open-source software licensed under AGPL-3.0, and it markets itself as a way for users to interact with YouTube without allowing the site to collect their data, or having to make an account. “Invidious protects you from the prying eyes of Google,” its homepage reads. “It won’t track you either!” Invidious also allows users to watch videos without being interrupted by “annoying ads,” which is how YouTube makes most of its money.
The letter continues to say that API clients “must not place any limitations on the YouTube functionality required by the RMF [Requirements for Minimum Functionality for YouTube API Services],” or “mimic or replicate core user experiences…unless they add significant independent value or functionality that improves users’ interactions with YouTube.”
“We strive to keep YouTube a safe, responsible community,” the letter states. “We hope that you will cooperate with us by correcting and ceasing to offer Your Client that violates our terms and policies within 7 days from the date of this letter,” which, according to Invidious developer TheFrenchGhosty, was sent on June 8.
Invidious developers on the GitHub post say they don’t plan to make any changes to Invidious’s operation. “They don’t understand that we never agreed to any of their TOS/policies, they don’t understand that we don’t use their API,” wrote TheFrenchGhosty.
They explained in an email to Motherboard that instead, Invidious acts as a web browser. “It loads the YouTube website, gets the essential data and display them in another website, that’s it,” they said. “It doesn’t use the ‘YouTube Data API,’ in the same way a human watching a video on YouTube doesn’t use the ‘YouTube Data API.’”
When asked whether they expected YouTube to continue to pursue its claim, TheFrenchGhosty said, “They do not have any claim, but they have the money, so this might be going further.” They said that people contributing to Invidious are looking for an EU- or France-based organization that can help them defend the project on legal grounds.
“Assume it’s just the start,” TheFrenchGhosty wrote in the GitHub post. “Assume they’ll ask GitHub to takedown the repos. Assume the team wont be able to work on Invidious. You know what you have to do. May Invidious lie and prosper, with or without us…We won’t do anything unless we have to.”
A YouTube spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
YouTube is not the only site cracking down on API usage—Reddit introduced new fees for developers to host APIs, which can amount to millions for some, which Redditors say would make it financially impossible for any third-party apps to operate on the site. Apollo, one of the most popular apps on the site, announced that it would be shutting down at the end of June because of the fees.
TheFrenchGhosty said that users are now pushing back against these corporate decisions. For example, thousands of subreddits went dark this week to protest Reddit’s API fees. “This is great and brings more people to better things: Mastodon, Lemmy and PeerTube (and the fediverse in general),” they continued, referring to a decentralized, autonomous set of networks that run on open-source software around the world. “Federated, decentralized and FOSS platforms sustained by donations are the solution. This is hopefully just the beginning.”