Browser-based YouTube to MP3 converters are plentiful and allow you to download a local copy of any song for offline listening. These convenient tools "rip" the audio from YouTube and other media streaming sites and produce an MP3 file for you to download. However, these online converters are legally dubious.
How Online Converters Work
The basic function of online YouTube to MP3 converters is to retrieve the full video file from YouTube, extract just the audio component of the video, and deliver a downloadable MP3 file. From the end user's point of view, this procedure is mostly invisible and automatic. He or she simply submits the URL of the desired YouTube clip into the converter website, the website performs the operation, and the MP3 download link is produced.
Depending on the converter website, it may also offer the option to download the YouTube video too and not just the audio component. The separation of the video and audio components is a process that the site's demultiplexer ("demux") software performs.
In the context of online converters, the website is able to locate and download the full video file stored on the YouTube servers, typically as a FLV (Flash Video) file. This file can then be "demuxed" to generate an audio-only MP3 or other similar file type.
Is Ripping YouTube Songs Illegal?
The legal status of ripping and converting a YouTube video into an audio file fundamentally falls under the same conversation as downloading the entirety of that YouTube video, including the actual "video" component. PC Advisor notes that it is a violation of Google's terms of service to view YouTube content through anything other than the official YouTube player (as it may be embedded on other websites) or on the YouTube website itself.
By ripping and downloading the YouTube video -- even if it is only the audio component -- you are bypassing the official YouTube player and thus violating these terms and conditions. The terms also state that you cannot copy or reproduce any YouTube content "for any other purposes without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content."
Digital Trends remarks that YouTube ripping websites fall under a legal gray area, falling somewhere between illegal download networks for pirated content like Limewire and MegaUpload and fully legal streaming services like Spotify. For content that is within the public domain or otherwise freely licensed, fewer potential issues arise.
However, in the case of copyright content, like music from popular artists or the score from a Hollywood movie, ripping and downloading a copy for personal use can be akin to downloading a pirated copy. This continues to be a source of debate among the courts and the final verdict remains unclear.
Convert YouTube Videos to Local MP3 Music Files
Many websites exist that can convert any YouTube video, based on the URL provided, into a downloadable MP3 file for offline listening. It must be noted that this list is provided for informational purposes only and LoveToKnow does not necessarily condone the use of such websites for the potentially illegal downloading of copyrighted content.
There once existed two sister sites that provided complementary functionality. KeepVid was offered as a YouTube ripping website, offering users the chance to download entire YouTube movies and videos to their computers. SnipMP3 was offered as the site to convert YouTube videos into simple MP3 audio files.
Since then, SnipMP3 has closed and its functionality has been rolled into the larger KeepVid website instead. To use the site, copy and paste the YouTube URL into the field near the top and click on the "download" button to the right of the text field, not to be confused with the larger "Download" button below (as shown in the image); that is an advertisement.
Java is required for this website to work and you may see several permission requests during the process. You will then be presented with a series of download options, the last of which is to download the MP3 file in 64 or 128 kbps. Nearly all converter websites function in a very similar way.
Supporting not only YouTube, but also other streaming sites like Vevo and Dailymotion, Convert2mp3.net is one of the more robust options available. The desired video URL is entered into the corresponding text field. Then, the desired file format is selected from the pulldown menu; audio options include MP3, M4A, AAC, FLAC, OGG and WMA.
Additional features include an integrated search field for finding the YouTube video you would like to rip, as well as a one-click option for saving the resulting converted file to Dropbox. The converted MP3 file is saved on the Convert2mp3 server for a period of four hours.
One of the simplest-looking YouTube conversion websites is also one of the most popular. YouTube-MP3 does not utilize distracting and misleading advertisements designed to trick you into clicking them. Instead, the site features a very Spartan and utilitarian design. The YouTube URL can be entered near the top, followed by clicking on the Convert Video button. The download link is produced above that with no further options available.
Calling itself a "Free Online Media Recorder," Clip Converter is a free media conversion program that works within your browser. Similar to Convert2mp3, it also supports multiple streaming sites in addition to YouTube, as well as multiple conversion formats. It also allows users to upload their own video files for conversion.
Supported streaming sites include YouTube, MySpace, Dailymotion, Vimeo, Metacafe and SoundCloud. The resulting audio file can be retrieved in MP3, M4A or AAC formats. More advanced features include the ability to adjust the audio volume, change the audio bit rate, and define the start and end time of the clip to be converted.
The Degradation of Quality
In general, the majority of the YouTube ripping websites deliver relatively low quality MP3 audio files with lower bitrates than if the equivalent song were purchased through a legitimate source like Amazon or iTunes. This is above and beyond all the potential legal concerns related to their use. While these conversion sites may be convenient, they may not be able to provide the audio quality that many users may desire.