When the topic of downloading YouTube videos comes up, there’s a side-subject that must always be broached: Is it even legal? When it comes to copyright, as long as you’re downloading a video for your own personal offline use, you’re probably okay.
It’s a trifle more black and white when you consider Google’s terms of service for YouTube, which read: “You shall not download any Content unless you see a ‘download’ or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content.”
After all, watching YouTube videos offline is taking money out of Google’s pocket and those of the video’s creators. There’s a reason YouTube runs those ads in front of videos; a lot of people make a living that way.
So, let’s be clear: taking video from YouTube is a big no-no and you shouldn’t. If you want to share a video, YouTube makes it pretty damn easy to do, from embedding to emailing to sharing via social networks. You don’t really need to download a video most of the time. But maybe you have your reasons. We won’t judge. If you must download a YouTube video—absolutely need to, just for yourself, and not for dissemination, and not to be a total douche-nozzle—here’s how.
Third-party software is where many will find the best control for downloading online videos. Typically, you just paste the URL for the YouTube video you want into the app, and it downloads the highest quality version it can find, probably in MP4 format.
(It used to be that YouTube videos were all Flash-based, so your download was an FLV file, but those tend to be harder to play back. MP4, short for MPEG-4 Part 14 multimedia format, plays everywhere on anything.)
Here are some options:
Clipgrab works with YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe, and DailyMotion specifically, and a lot of others unofficially. It has a search function for the officially supported sites built in. You pick a format to download the video in, and it’ll convert it on the fly as needed. Formats include MP4, WMV, but also audio-only MP3 or Ogg Vorbis (converting video to audio is a tried-and-true trick for those not into buying music). ClipGrap provides instructions on getting video to your iOS device. As donationware, you don’t have to pay for it, but it’s nice to help developers stay afloat. Be nice.
YTD Video Downloader
Free or $29.90/year; Windows/Mac
YTD works not just with YouTube but over 50 other video-hosting sites. It will convert files to other formats. Pay the yearly fee and you get even more functions, like downloading multiple videos at once and download acceleration, plus no advertising. YTD has Android and iOS apps; the iOS version won’t actually download video, while the Android version can, but you can’t install it from Google Play, you have to use the APK file they provide (with instructions). We have more on that below under Mobile.
Any Video Converter
Free to $49.95 (Ultimate); Mac/Windows
It’s expensive, but AVC Ultimate claims not only that it can download video from 100+ sites like YouTube and Facebook, it can also capture streaming video—like from Netflix. It’ll also rip DVDs and provides some video editing.
Want to avoid installing software? Download helper sites do the work for you, providing conversion and then a download link. It can take a lot longer, depending on the size and quality of the video you want—a typical 2 minute movie trailer in 1080p can be around 50 megabytes—but you can’t beat the convenience. There are hundreds of these types of sites out there with names like FLVto, YFVF, Savido, TubeGrabber, GrabClip, etc. Here are a few that stand out.
The trick to use this site is just go to YouTube and put the letters “dlv” (shout forDownLoad Video) in front of YouTube in the URL, so “www.youtube.com” becomes “www.dlvyoutub.com.” You’ll forward to this site and it will pull in the video in question; you pick the video format, or if you want audio, and download it. They also provide a bookmarket let so you can just click the toolbar when you see a YouTube video you want to keep. Or, just paste the video URL in at the site. It’s very simple. The downside: it only works with YouTube and no other site. Other sites with similar functionality include Youtube Monkey Downloader (change url to “www.youtubemonkey.com”). (We used to recommend SaveFrom.net, which has similar functions, but it’s overrun by malware redirects now. Avoid it.)
ClipConverter.cc does the usual: it takes a URL and lets you download the video hosted there in multiple formats, both video and audio. Change the start and end time of the video if you like. YouTube, Vimeo, and others are supported; it also offers browser add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
Supporting downloads from 30 sites, KeepVid does more than video (as evidenced by supporting downloads from SoundCloud). Just paste in the video’s URL and click download—don’t click the big advertisement that also says “download.” You’ll get back a slew of download options, both video and audio, in every size allowed (it doesn’t actually convert to format of your choice). Right click the file you want and select “Save Link as” to download to the desktop.
Simple is what you need, and ConvertToAudio.com is that. Plug in the URL, pick a format for conversion (audio or video, though MP3 is the default), even set the volume control, then click Convert It! You’ll have to wait a while for the conversion. The site can’t do them all—it choked hard on trying to turn the DeadPool trailer into, well, anything. They offer a bookmarklet to put in the toolbar—click it whenever you’re on a video site to start a conversion.
If you can be spared a step from taking a URL to a site to convert it, why not?
You’re going to run into some issues with downloading video from YouTube, however, especially if you’re using Chrome as your primary browser.
The Chrome Web Store where you get such browser extensions is controlled by Google, naturally, since Google makes the Chrome browser. Even an extension ostensibly for this purpose—the obviously named Video Downloader professional—states right up front in its description, “The download of YouTube videos to hard drive is locked because of restrictions of the Chrome Store.” Google isn’t in the habit of letting one division screw over the others. The download of any RTMP protocol video (protected videos) or streaming video also isn’t possible. (Video Downloader Ultimate, however, is software from the same developer that downloads from YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, etc.)
It’s the same with other extensions like vGet. But you can use them on other sites with video, of course. Just not YouTube.
Want to get around it? You need an extension that doesn’t come from the Google Web Store. Download YouTube Chrome says it’ll do the job, and even spells out how to do the install without the assistance Chrome users typically get from Google Web store.
Other browser extensions that can do the job, if you don’t get them from Google:
Free; Opera, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chromium-based browsers
This downloader tool is on all the platforms, and even has an installer for Chrome that skips the Google Web Store. It puts a “download this video” menu right on any YouTube page you load, with all the format options on display.
Free; Firefox, Chrome
Supporting a huge number of sites—even those for adults!—this Firefox-specific extension adds to your Tools menu and provides a bunch of format options for download when you’re on a page with a supported video. You’ll know when the icon for the extension animates. If you upgrade to Premium for $28.50, you can convert files (but only on Firefox). They also have a Kiva initiative page, where they’d prefer you donate funds to those in need.
Remember that problem of using Chrome extensions from the Google Web Store to try and grab YouTube videos? (Seriously, we just talked about it. I worry about your memory.)
You’re going to have an even bigger issue when you want to get an Android app from the Google Play store. Google’s got an even tighter grip on the apps there. Of course you can’t actually download anything with your officially sanctioned YouTube apps. Unless you live in India.
That said, with Android it is possible to install apps without going through Google. WonTube’s Free YouTube Downloader for Android is one—you can download the APK (Android application package) file to “sideload.” Find it in your downloads and click it to install. (You may have to go into your security settings and enable “Unknown sources.”) After that, launch the app, use it to surf around YouTube, and the download links and video management features are built right in. It’s buggy as an ant hill covered in syrup, but one of the few options. YTD, mentioned above, has a similar app.
On the iOS platform, you’d think there would be no such restriction, since Apple and Google aren’t exactly the best of pals. But on the few apps I tried last year in the first edition of this story not only wouldn’t download from YouTube, they’re not even available anymore; it’s likely with iOS 9 they wouldn’t have worked anyway. One of those apps said in its description, “downloading from YouTube is prohibited due to its Terms of Service.” Apple is ensuring that app makers play by the rules—even Google’s rules. All the better to get Google to block someone who eventually does something illegal with iTunes downloads, probably.
The work around: Apps like Video Downloader Pro For Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive. It doesn’t download video from the video site like YouTube, but does make it easy to get video from a cloud storage/backup platform and stick it in your Camera Roll to watch later. Or you can, of course, go old school: use iTunes to sync videos on your Windows or Mac desktop to iOS, even use AirDrop. But it’s not the same. Chances are, the minute you find an app that can download YouTube videos, it will get “fixed.” The only real option to do that is jailbreak your iPhone to use sideloaded apps that download what you want.