YouTube's expanded API not for everybody

Vague language in Terms of Service restricts commercial uses for YouTube's video player. But how much?

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

UPDATE 3-15-08 12:20 p.m.: Some of the information in the story is found in YouTube's Frequently Asked Questions section

Before you start building new applications around YouTube's video player, it might be wise to check out the Terms of Service agreement and the Frequently Asked Questions section.

It has a lot to say about what you can or can't do--particularly when it comes to any thoughts of making money. First up, the No.1 video-sharing site says plainly "the intent of the API is for noncommercial use. "More specifically, the TOS prohibits using the application programming interface for the "primary purpose of deriving revenues...such as advertising or subscription" services.

YouTube, which expanded its API on Wednesday, goes on to say that it's permissible to use the API to show YouTube content on an ad-enabled blog or Web site, just as long as they aren't "comprised solely or substantially of YouTube video content."

Not surprisingly, the Google-owned site doesn't want anyone else making money off its content--especially competitors. But how much video can a commercial site post before it's too much? What exactly does "substantially" mean?

There's more.

Under the "Commercial Use" section of the TOS is this item: "The sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions targeted to, within, or on the API Client or YouTube video content" is prohibited without YouTube's permission.

A YouTube representative declined to comment.

What this means is that users can't insert advertising into the video or the player. And the YouTube player comes with the YouTube logo overlay. This, too, should also come as no surprise, said Roman Arzhintar, CEO of SideReel, a video search and community site.

"My guess is that YouTube is going to try and offer ads through that player itself," Arzhintar said, "by including code inside of it that will pull ads from Google."

YouTube allows people to use its player. Why shouldn't the company make a buck by delivering ads?

But besides being vague and perhaps over-broad, the language in the TOS is perhaps too restrictive for some commercial sites, especially when there are plenty of places to acquire white-label, third-party players that allow them to include their own advertising and branding.

What this means is that YouTube's player will still be the choice for individual bloggers and smaller businesses that supplement their content with videos and don't mind YouTube's branding and ads. For you in-betweens, better read the fine print.