Monday, February 27, 2012

It has been said that you commit at least three felonies a day mostly without realizing you are doing so. Technically, this isn't really felonious - it's more of a Civil matter, but what do I know? I'm not an attorney.

I'm not going to get into the mess that is copyright law or even discuss my stance on copyright (either way would be flamebaiting). There is a good write-up here on what you need to know regarding copyright laws as they are written today. For the sake of this article, the only relevant part is with regard to "innocent infringement".

It's been well known and documented over the years that the things you view on the internets can and will be cached locally. This article is for the benefit of those that are a little new to this.

Some Background

I was poking around in my browser's cache (Chromium on LMDE) since I was troubleshooting an issue. There were several large media files in there. Puzzled as to what they were, I opened them and, lo and behold, it was every YouTube video I had watched since the last time I dumped the browser cache. (Oddly, the sound was better in VLC than it was with the Flash player)

The "So-What"

Some of these videos were music videos from either the original artist or from the record labels. The issue with this is that it was being saved to my computer. Should a copyright owner get a wild hare up their ass, I could be sued for infringement of their copyright regardless of my intent. On a side note, I've been sued before, it's not fun.

Digging Deeper

For the sake of keeping things scientific, I used the same video for every test and urged the others involved to use it in their tests with different browsers on different platforms. The video is "Shadows" by Lindsey Stirling. If you haven't seen her work, I urge you to give her some hits on YouTube and buy her music. It is definitely worth dropping a few bucks on. Do that now before you forget. This blog will still be here when you get back.

Everything done for experimentation purposes used no browser extensions for downloading flash content or plugins except what is usually necessary to load the video in the browsers being tested. So, in essence, all files being downloaded were done so passively and all that needed to be done was to find the needle (video) in the haystack (Browser Cache/Temp Files).

There are only a few quality levels that I could get to straight-up locally cache the entire video. All quality levels below 720p will cache locally.

720 and above I noticed a strange behavior in the cache: it would start to cache for about 2 seconds and then several 1.7MB binary "data_#" files would appear. I would only get about 3 or 4 at any one time. So it was time to go a bit further and see what those data files contained. I noticed some of the binary data was in human readable form. A quick "head data_1" revealed this little nugget of info:

Yep, it seems the higher bitrate versions of YouTube videos, at least this one, are being cached by my ISP.

...But when I go to a local school with a different ISP, results are a little different. Note the video dimensions.

Chrome/Firefox/Internets Exploder


Chrome and IE both have the cache all in one folder. They were the browsers that made it very easy to find the cached video. All that needed done was to look for the file that was growing in size.

Firefox on the other hand, uses a somewhat complicated and non-intuitive directory structure in their cache. It took a little more work to find the video with that browser.

It's worth noting that all three browsers that were tested exhibited the same behavior. I and several others were able to passively download videos from YouTube and play them locally in VLC. Everyone involved are now criminals...

How to Load Everything Live

This might not be a good idea since your page load times would increase. But if you are paranoid enough and willing to trade page load time for law abiding citizen status, here are a few things you can do:

In Chrome: Wrench->Tools->Dev Tools->Bottom Right Corner Gear->Disable Cache

In Firefox: go to about:config->*Right click*browser.cache.disk.enable->Toggle

IE: Download one of the browsers above and use the instructions for that browser.

In closing, I have to pose a question. Does browser cache actually constitute copyright infringement? Let me know in the comments below.

Special thanks to Ray for the sanity checks and insight.

UPDATE: Still vague about client side caching.

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