Standing up for developers: youtube-dl is back

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Today we reinstated youtube-dl, a popular project on GitHub, after we received additional information about the project that enabled us to reverse a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown.

This is a Big Deal. For two reasons:

Firstly, youtube-dl is a spectacularly useful project. I’ve used it for many years to help me archive my own content, to improve my access to content that’s freely available on the platform, and to help centralise (freely available) metadata to keep my subscriptions on video-sharing sites. Others have even more-important uses for the tool. I love youtube-dl, and I’d never considered the possibility that it could be used to circumvent digital restrictions (apparently it’s got some kind of geofence-evading features you can optionally enable, for people who don’t have a multi-endpoint VPN I guess?… I note that it definitely doesn’t break DRM…) until its GitHub repo got taken down the other week.

Which was a bleeding stupid thing to use a DMCA request on, because, y’know: Barbara Streisand Effect. Lampshading that a free, open-source tool could be used for people’s convenience is likely to increase awareness and adoption, not decrease it! Huge thanks to the EFF for stepping up and telling GitHub that they’d got it wrong (this letter is great reading, by the way).

But secondly, GitHub’s response is admirable and – assuming their honour their new stance – effective. They acknowledge their mistake, then go on to set out a new process by which they’ll review takedown requests. That new process includes technical and legal review, erring on the side of the developer rather than the claimant (i.e. “innocent until proven guilty”), multiparty negotiation, and limiting the scope of takedowns by allowing violators to export their non-infringing content after the fact.

I was concerned that the youtube-dl takedown might create a FOSS “chilling effect” on GitHub. It still might: in the light of it, I for one have started backing up my repositories and those of projects I care about to an different Git server! But with this response, I’d still be confident hosting the main copy of an open-source project on GitHub, even if that project was one which was at risk of being mistaken for copyright violation.

Note that the original claim came not from Google/YouTube as you might have expected (if you’ve just tuned in) but from the RIAA, based on the fact that youtube-dl could be used to download copyrighted music videos for enjoyment offline. If you’re reminded of Sony v. Universal City Studios (1984) – the case behind the “Betamax standard” – you’re not alone.

Reinventing Git interface

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I also ask not to discard all this nonsense right away, but at least give it a fair round of thought. My recommendations, if applied in their entirety, can radically change Git experience. They can move Git from advanced, hacky league to the mainstream and enable adoption of VCS by very wide groups of people. While this is still a concept and obviosly requires a hell of a job to become reality, my hope is that somebody working on a Git interface can borrow from these ideas and we all will get better Git client someday.

I love Git. But I love it more conceptually than I do practically. Everything about its technical design is elegant and clever. But most of how you have to act when you’re using it just screams “I was developed by lots of engineers and by exactly zero UX developers.” I can’t imagine why.

Nikita proposes ways in which it can be “fixed” while retaining 100% backwards-compatibility, and that’s bloody awesome. I hope the Git core team are paying attention, because these ideas are gold.

git git git git git

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Ever found you’ve accidentally entered too many gits in your terminal and wondered if there’s a solution to it? I quite often type git then go away and come back, then type a full git status after it. This leads to a lovely (annoying) error out the box:

$ git git status
git: 'git' is not a git command. See 'git --help'.

What a git.

My initial thought was overriding the git binary in my $PATH and having it strip any leading arguments that match git, so we end up running just the git status at the end of the arguments. An easier way is to just use git-config‘s alias.* functionality to expand the first argument being git to a shell command.

git config --global alias.git '!exec git'

Which adds the following git config to your .gitconfig file

[alias]
  git = !exec git

And then you’ll find you can git git to your heart’s content

$ git sha
cc9c642663c0b63fba3964297c13ce9b61209313

$ git git sha
cc9c642663c0b63fba3964297c13ce9b61209313

$ git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git git sha
cc9c642663c0b63fba3964297c13ce9b61209313

(git sha is an alias for git rev-parse HEAD.)

See what other git alias’ I have in my ~/.gitconfig, and laugh at all the typo corrections I have in there. (Yes, git provides autocorrection if you enable it, but I’m used to these typos working!)

Now git back to doing useful things!