This post is an update (using much of the text from my previous posts) to an ongoing series that answers the proverbial question of how to download videos from YouTube’s website, to use in academic scholarship. More about why I stipulate scholarship later.
The question of how to download videos from YouTube allows me to revisit a topic near and dear to us in the Teaching and Learning Technologies division. The idea of repurposing and transforming existing media to tell digital stories.
I’ve gone down this path before after a comment on a previous post led me to look into YouTube’s terms of service. The question is about the breaking of the terms of service for YouTube videos. Things constantly change about the YouTube service, but what has remained constant is the fact that the technology behind watching videos at their site is still “progressive download” and there is a whole raft of tools dedicated to exploit that fact.
To save you time, and because the most likely reason that you would be reading this is to see the tools we recommend for downloading videos, I’ll get right to it.
My favorite and most consistent tool over the last few years is the Video DownloadHelper plugin for Firefox. The big advantage with this method is that, in my experience, it works the most consistently with the most number of videos available on YouTube. Relatively recently, YouTube has moved away from Flash format video and toward MPEG-4 video. The reason being that iOS devices don’t support Flash and the push of HTML5 compatible formats has pushed h.264 technology to the forefront. Video DownloadHelper will allow you to see both the FLV and the MP4 format files for a given video. The downside to this method is that Firefox might not be your browser of preference, and there is the plugin that needs to be installed. It isn’t terribly difficult to set up, but I do recognize that I only use Firefox when I want to grab a YouTube video.
The next tool that I have found that works pretty consistently is 4K Video Downloader. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not just for downloading 4K content – which YouTube does have and this program will support. Using it is pretty simple. Go to the YouTube video that you want and copy the URL of the video in your web browser’s address bar. Then in the 4K Video Downloader program click the “Paste URL” button. You’re then presented with numerous resolutions (quality) choices. Choose one and then click the Download button and it’s on its way. It’s pretty fast too. The makers regularly update this program to support changes in how YouTube presents its video content. The reason these programs need to be updated regularly is because YouTube seems to be actively discouraging the downloading of video (and sometimes they succeed). There is some secret sauce in YouTube’s implementation of progressive download technology. I believe it has to do with balancing the idea of using a technology that provides the best experience (progressive download), but uses a few tricks to hide the video file that is downloaded to your computer.
So what of the ethics of downloading YouTube videos? Well, the caution is that most of the videos on YouTube have full “all rights reserved” copyrights. You can’t obtain YouTube videos and do with them as you wish. There is a Creative Commons (CC) licensing system, but it’s rare that the average uploader takes advantage of this. What has changed over the last few years is that you can select CC licenses as your default copyrighting choice when you put a video up on YouTube.
The paradox is that YouTube’s terms of service states that “unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content”, you aren’t allowed to download. However, the technology is based on the browser downloading the given video every single time. It is part of the definition of “progressive download”. Now in browsers such as Google’s Chrome, and Apple’s Safari, the secret temporary storage is quite well hidden. With Firefox though, it can be proven that the video is saved in a cache folder and therefore the user is breaking the terms of service every time just by watching the video.
Finally, we had previously recommended the Torch Browser to get media from YouTube and other sites. It became very sketchy, and therefore I have not recommended it for quite a few months now. It is still alive (the Torch blog was updated in September 2014) and may work for some. My most recent attempt at installing it gave me an “Installation Failed” error. Not a good sign.
So that’s the Fall 2014 list of YouTube Downloaders. Here are the links once again:
About the title of this post and others – YouTube Downloads-The Quickening, YouTube Downloads-The Sorcerer – have you not noticed that I’ve been using editions of the Highlander Franchise for the articles about YouTube downloads? I’ve never watched a Highlander movie, but I’ve always loved the titles of the sequels. The tradition of using them with my updates to YouTube downloader programs continues.