Downloading Web Video

This is a copy of Appendix D, included in the eBook, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing.”

Appendix D: Guidelines & Tips for Downloading Web Video

Legally, the official YouTube “Terms of Service” (TOS) prohibit downloading. As of July 5, 2011, the TOS state:

Content is provided to you AS IS. You may access Content for your information and personal use solely as intended through the provided functionality of the Service and as permitted under these Terms of Service. You shall not download any Content unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content. You shall not copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, or otherwise exploit any Content for any other purposes without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content. YouTube and its licensors reserve all rights not expressly granted in and to the Service and the Content.

Fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law, as well as Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002 (TEACH Act) provide legal means for teachers to utilize copyrighted content without advance permission and in ways not explicitly granted by copyright holders.2 As stated in the disclaimer for the previous chapter on copyright and fair use, I am not a lawyer and my opinions should not be interpreted as legal advice applicable in the jurisdiction where you live. With that legal disclaimer made clear, here is my take on downloading web videos to use with students in your class.

Every computer downloads a copy of a YouTube video in the web browser’s “cache” in order to play it. Downloading a copy is inherent in the ways most web videos play on computers and mobile computing devices today. All the words of the YouTube terms of service following the word “download” fall outside the scope of a teacher making a temporary copy of a video to share with students in class: “reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, or otherwise exploit…..” The key to effectively utilizing a “fair use defense” in the event of an alleged copyright violation is thoughtfully reasoning the use of copyrighted media in light of the context of use. If you are downloading a non-browser cache version of a YouTube video to share with your students, and plan to temporarily (rather than permanently) keep a local copy of that video on your computer, I think a strong case can be made this is “fair use” under U.S. copyright law. I am not aware of any court case in the United States which has held a teacher in violation of copyright for downloading a local copy of a YouTube video and sharing it with students. If a judge issued such a ruling, you can be sure the edu-blogosphere would immediately be a-buzz over it. No one can guarantee the future when it comes to court decisions and lawsuits, but it seems highly unlikely any U.S. teacher will ever face legal consequences for utilizing downloaded YouTube videos as described in this paragraph.

Given this understanding of fair use law as it pertains to online videos including those hosted by YouTube, I’d like to share several of my favorite techniques for downloading temporary, local copies of YouTube videos.

Option A:

The website provides a free, straightfoward way to download local copies of YouTube videos. To use it, either copy the direct URL (web link) of the YouTube video you want to download and paste it into the site in the field at the top of the page. Alternatively, you can add the word “save” in the address bar of your web browser just before the domain “youtube.” For example, my ISTE 2011 interview with Travis Allen can be saved to a local hard drive by changing the address to When using, you may need to ALLOW or authorize the plugin or applet on the site to run on your computer. Right click (control-click on a Mac without a two button mouse) the link “Download MP4” to save the YouTube video directly to your local hard drive.


Option B: PwnYoutube Bookmarklet

My favorite, fast way to save a YouTube video to a local hard drive is using a browser button (a “bookmarklet”) called PwnYouTube available on I use this method in the Google Chrome web browser, but it should work in other browsers too. Right click / control-click the desired link and choose to save it to your local hard drive. I generally choose to download MP4 video versions.


Option C: UnPlug for FireFox

Another method I like and use, which works with some other video websites including videos, is the free “Unplug” plugin for the FireFox web browser. ( As of this writing, the Unplug extension is compatible with FireFox version 3.

There are many other ways to download and save web videos to your local hard drive. I have highlighted three techniques which I’ve used extensively and have worked well in the past. The decision whether to download web videos in advance to use with your students is more complicated than some technology choices since it involves copyright law and opinions about fair use, but I hope the information I’ve provided here helps you make those decisions.

Remove Related Distractions

If you choose not to download a YouTube video in advance of class, do not have time to download it, or do not need to download it because your school provides plentiful bandwidth which is never in short supply, you can show web videos “live.” In these situations, it can be very helpful to remove “related distractions” from your web browser so students can better focus on the content of the selected video.

“Related Distractions” in the context of YouTube videos include “related videos” which YouTube shows by default in the right sidebar of the selected video, video comments which can include offensive language, and video annotations added by other YouTube users which can be inappropriate as well as distracting.

QuietTube ( is a free service which also can be configured in a web browser as a “bookmarklet.” The screenshot below shows an example of a video which includes an inappropriate and potentially distracting videos when viewed directly on YouTube. I would NOT recommend showing this video to a classroom of students from this default view.


Instead, after clicking the bookmarklet, this is the browser view which students would see for this same video.


Viewpure ( is another free video “clutter cleaner” service like Quietube, but it provides several additional options. Cleaned (or “purified” in the parlance of the site) videos can be shown in widescreen (16:9) or normal (4:3) aspect ratios, with a white or black background, and can start at an advanced minute and second count you specify.



One Reply to “Downloading Web Video”

  1. Brian Perryman

    Wes, I know I have seen and been given the few lines of code to download a youtube video. I just can’t find any old conference handouts with such code. Can you point me in the right direction.

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