YouTube is great – there is no doubt about it. It provides endless hours of fun, engaging content for free. However, some things make it a little bit less fun to use sometimes.
There are two main gripes that people tend to have with the platform: its insistence on ads and its always-online nature. That’s why downloading content from YouTube is so popular and sounds so good: you can watch videos whenever, however, and without the constant interruptions.
Google, which owns YouTube, makes its money through advertising. It provides ‘free’ video content (well, the creators do) for you to enjoy, and you return the favour by viewing some ads (or by paying for a YouTube Premium subscription, assuming it is available in your country). When you download the YouTube video to watch it offline, you’re no longer keeping up your part of the deal.
It’s pretty obvious that Google would want to stop you downloading content to watch without ads. Not only does it want to protect its earnings potential, but it has to protect the content creators who upload videos to its site and may also be making a living from that content. And this is why you won’t find apps that allow you to download YouTube in the Google Play store: Google does not condone such a practice.
Why would you want to download YouTube videos?
We’ve already touched on this, and the answer is fairly obvious. Offline videos are often much more convenient and can be viewed in all circumstances – you don’t need an internet connection to watch them.
So, downloading your favourite creators’ oeuvre to watch while on a plane is an attractive option since you can’t stream it. Downloading videos is also handy when traveling with limited data: you just save it to your phone, tablet or whatever using Wi-Fi at home and you don’t have to worry about running out of data while travelling.
There is one more upside to downloaded content: the lack of advertisements. These pesky interruptions are the death of fun when watching YouTube, always appearing at the worst moment. Once you download the video, the ads are not embedded into the video, so you won’t see them when watching offline.
Is it illegal to download from YouTube?
For personal use, no it is not illegal to download YouTube video. But it is a moral grey area.
Avoiding advertising is not illegal either (ad-blockers are the bane of the publishing industry, too).
Ad-blockers that run in a web browser are legal, if a little unfair to the publisher when you’re accessing free, ad-supported media such as the very article you’re reading now. And no-one will pull you in front of a judge for leaving the room to make a cup of tea during a TV ad break. You can even skip the ads after a few seconds on many YouTube videos, and fast-forward through the ads on recorded programmes on your TV set-top box.
But consider the fact that lots of the people who create YouTube videos rely on the money they make from the adverts displayed on their clips. If not illegal, we can surely all agree that this is morally wrong.
Downloading video from YouTube also breaches Google’s terms of service. It states: “[The user cannot] access or reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise exploit any portion of the Service or any Content, unless doing so: (a) as permitted on the Service; (b) with the prior written consent of YouTube and, where applicable, the relevant rights holders; or (c) in accordance with applicable law.”
In other words, you are permitted to view YouTube video only through Google’s own website and apps. You are not allowed to view YouTube video offline on your iPad, iPhone or Android device, PC or laptop through a third-party app.
Such third-party apps will continue to pop up on the web, and people will continue to use them to watch their favourite YouTube videos offline. Google might not be aware that you’re using them to download content from YouTube, and even if it did any threats of banning you from the service are all but impossible to uphold. After all, you don’t need to be signed into your Google account to access YouTube.
So, at the end of the day, it’s really up to you to decide whether or not downloading video from YouTube for personal use is something you should be doing.
Do I violate copyright when downloading YouTube videos?
Only if you’re going to use it in your own projects or for your own gain.
You might think it’s okay to download commercially available music or video for free and listen to it: what’s the harm in that? You might even think it’s ok to use it in your own videos or creations, but media companies are not in the business of giving away their goods for free, and rightly so. If you steal content in this way, the less money the copyright owners makes, and less money is available to the original content creators – often ordinary people struggling to make ends meet.
Google is hot on piracy. It encourages users to draw its attention to any videos that breach copyright and, where a video uses a soundtrack or other element owned by another person or company, it will award the original content creator any credit that arises from it.
We won’t go into depth over the ins and outs of online piracy here, suffice to say that in order to stay on the right side of the law, any content you do download from the web, for which you do not own the copyright, must be for your personal use only. You must not distribute or financially benefit from that content. It must also come with the express permission of the copyright owner.
How to download YouTube videos legally?
After all that legal stuff, you might still be wondering whether it is possible to download videos from YouTube legally and officially. And there is a way, one that’s extremely simply. But there’s also a downside: you have to pay for it.
I’m of course talking about YouTube Premium, which is a subscription service offered by the platform since 2018 (before that it was called YouTube Red). For a monthly fee, you can do quite a lot with it – it offers a music streaming service called YouTube Music, it allows you to watch YouTube videos ad-free and in better quality but, most importantly, it allows you to download any video you want.
There are caveats to this downloading procedure. Your downloaded videos are available only in the app, meaning that you cannot simply put them on an external drive and take with you anywhere – they stay inside the app on one particular device, and if you want them on another device, you have to be logged into your YouTube account there and download them separately.
They also disappear after 30 days, which might be a hassle if you want to go internet-free for a long period of time. However, it’s not that much of a problem. You just need to connect to Wi-Fi once every 30 days (and still have an active subscription) to keep your downloaded videos, no need to redownload them each month.
So, the steps to legal YouTube downloads are really simple – no downloader programs or sketchy apps needed, just a Premium subscription. It’s well worth it too – not only for the downloads, but all the other perks as well. Now, when you want to spend some time offline, but also crave a little bit of your favourite creators’ content – you know what to do.