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How to Download Videos from YouTube
and view them offline for educational purposes

by Neil MacQueen

YouTube's free version doesn't make it easy to view their videos offline (like in a classroom). That's why I strongly recommend you have an internet connection in your classroom so that you can connect to YouTube in your classroom without worrying about downloading.  Another option now is to subscribe to YouTube Premium which allows you to download most content. Yet another option is to download a video for teaching purposes using any number of free online download services.

And yet, there are times when it is VERY HANDY to be able to download a YouTube video for teaching purposes to show in a location or time where the internet isn't working, is too slow, or doesn't exist. This article shows you how to do that.

Though YouTube says its not, it is legal for teachers to make copies of free material strictly for teaching purposes where you cannot view the material in their preferred platform (such as online).

The long-standing and historic legal principle of "Fair Use" enshrined in US and Canadian copyright law gives educators extra latitude in using all copyrighted material for the expressed and limited purposes of non-profit teaching, commentary, and research. This includes when teaching circumstances require you to convert the format of a copyrighted work from one file format to another (such as from a record to an MP3, a photo to a scan, or converting an online video to one you can play on a device that can't get online.

Court rulings and copyright law in the U.S. have made it clear that educators have a great deal of latitude when seeking to use copyrighted material for non-profit teaching purposes --their dire "warning" and terms of service not withstanding. You cannot sign away your rights expressly protected by Federal Copyright Law, section 101.

They also don't have to make it easy for you or possible, but in the case of YouTube videos, there are a number of services that can help an educator who otherwise can't connect to YouTube in the classroom.

Free Services that Download Videos from YouTube and Vimeo

So many of the "free" online download services have turned into scams or trying to get you to download unnecessary software that I no longer recommend them.

Here's what I now use:

I use VLC -- the free sounds and video app (safe, long history, good developers), which can download both audio and video from "streaming" services like YouTube.

Learn how here:  You can also find many other webpages talking about how to use VLC to download vids.

Viewing or downloading YT videos for personal or teaching use is not piracy.

YouTube's business model is to share the ad revenue with the copyright holder of record. That's why you see ads. When you click a music video, the rightful owner of that song gets a cut of the ad revenue. How do they do that? YouTube's technology can detect the digital fingerprint of every song and video. It's like the "Shazam" app. When someone uploads a song or video, YouTube takes its fingerprint and then looks to see whether or not the publisher has an agreement with YouTube to allow their content to be uploaded by fans. MOST DO.

The problem is that YT doesn't like you taking their videos OFF their site --even if you have a legitimate and perfectly legal right to do so. Converting content to a viewable format (such as downloading) for non-commercial TEACHING USE is protected by US Copyright Law (sec 101). All the YouTube and FBI warnings in the world can't change Federal Copyright Law.

As an educator, you have the right to convert the format of material you want to teach with from one format to another (from online to downloaded file, for example, or from paper to projection on the screen). This is the same "right to copy" behind the perfectly legal practice of making a CD copy of your favorite music to play in your car, or putting a Bible book on the church copier to make a few copies of a certain part of the content for easier handling in our classroom.)

That said...
IDEALLY, YOU ARE watching the video on YouTube via an internet connection in your classroom. Having access to the internet in your classroom here in the 21st century is the equivalent of having an electricity back in the 20th century. Do it. At the very least, you can use your smartphone to set up an internet hotspot that your laptop or smart tv can connect to. Read "how to set up a wifi hotspot using your phone."

How is it that many Bible movies and Animated Bible Videos are on Youtube?

In many cases, the copyright holder has posted them.  Superbook, for example, gives their videos away for free (and gets a cut of the advertising revenue from YouTube viewings), or you can buy their DVD or watch it on their site.

In some cases the online version is lower resolution. In many cases, the copyright holder did not post them, but tolerates their online existence because they are getting a share of the ad revenue from YouTube. Some copyright holders love to see people making  "fan" videos of their music (and collect the ad revenue when you view it).

Youtube makes it extremely easy for a copyright holder to have their content removed from Youtube, and movie houses/publishers are generally vigilant about such things. Thus, if it is posted, the owner may have an ad-revenue agreement with Youtube. ...which is why the content has not been removed.

In general, however, you should not be trying to TEACH with full-length copies of Christian videos (or any commercially produced video) on Youtube without knowing whether or not it's bootlegged. And here's the sign: The bootlegs often are low resolution and have the credits cut off.  Just keep in mind that many publishers permit the existence of fan-uploaded videos of their content BECAUSE they are low resolution -- and they hope you will buy the real thing. And you should.

Murky? Yeah. Welcome to the 21st Century and online video. Mostly what you need to know is that EDUCATORS have a US Federally protected right to use any copyrighted material for the limited purpose of non-profit, face to face teaching, commentary or research. This includes showing videos from YouTube, scanning artwork, making copies of a magazine article, etc. It does NOT protect copying materials specifically created for teaching --such as distributing or copying from somebody's lesson plans or workbooks via your own channels which would damage the copyright holder's right to make a living by writing lesson plans. That would be "unfair" use.


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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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The Legality of Downloading Content from YouTube

A researched opinion

Teaching with YouTube content, either online or OFFline, for teaching purposes is Federally protected "fair use," according to Section 107 of the US Copyright Statute.  

YouTube's boilerplate copyright statement and terms of service cannot negate this historic and Federally granted right to teachers, researchers, and commentators who are using freely available copyrighted material for the purposes of teaching, commentary, parody, or research.

In addition to using the material as the teacher sees fit, the teacher has the copyright to transform/transfer/copy the material from one medium to another, such as, a handout, or making an excerpt of a video, or changing the file format or manner of playback. Changing the format of a video from online to thumbdrive so you can show it to your students is not piracy as long as the content was put out there for public consumption --and YouTube is about as public as it gets. In the same way, you can burn ALBUMS to CD and share them in class, and you can take pictures of Billboards and teach with them in your class --because Billboards are too big to bring into class! This broad protected teaching discretion applies to internet content whether it is viewing online or off. Federal Copyright Law protects HOW, WHEN, WHERE and in WHAT FORMAT we use copyrighted to teach with.

YouTube cannot force a teacher to "show their ads" any more than any curriculum provider can "require" students see ads in their material. It's great that they are sharing ad-revenue with the artists who post their material FOR FREE on YouTube, but the copyright holders are under no illusion that people are reading all the ads, or can be forced to.  It's a massive grey area.

YouTube's terms of service (TOS) which you may or may not have agreed to as a user, states that downloading a video and viewing it "offline" violates their terms of service,  Why?  Because they want everyone to see their advertisements online. However, teachers are not compelled to show ANY advertising to their students. 

As long as the change in format (such as from online to downloaded file) and location of use (such as on YouTube, or on a tablet that doesn't have the internet) continues to be for teaching purposes, it is protected use.


  • Imagine being told your students can only read a free book "within the bookstore," and that they must also read the advertisements that come with the book.  (YouTube being "the bookstore.")  
  • Imagine being told that you can only teach with a DVD -provided you show your students the trailer ads for other movies also included in that movie.
  • Imagine being told that you cannot convert your VHS tapes to DVDs, or can't convert a video file to a format that would allow you to project it to your students?
  • Imagine being told that you cannot SAVE a video for later viewing in the classroom? 

Please note: This does not apply to pirated material. It only applies to material which the copyright holder has allowed to be circulated or sold. This is why you need to be careful about what you use from YouTube, ...making sure it has not been illegally posted. YouTube is continually evolving its tools to identify illegally posted content. And they are increasingly engaged with the internet legal community to protect legitimate "fair use." 

If YouTube were selling their videos, we'd have to buy them. But they are giving them away and cannot compel us to watch their ads. And if we purchased them, we'd still have the right to transfer them to a different storage format and play them back without watching their ads.

Question: Is YouTube, in effect, "selling" you its "free" videos at the cost of making you watch ads? There is no legal precedent for this, no case law. On the other hand, there is ample legal precedent for not being forced to watch something. This is the conundrum of YouTube's technology, and many legal experts have noted that we are in a period of "feeling our way through" this brave new world of freely available -yet copyrighted and ad-surrounded content. 


In the case of music videos, if you need to download a music video from YouTube to show it outside of YouTube's wrapper in a teaching situation or for the purposes of commentary,  I strongly encourage you to BUY the song from iTunes or Google Play. It will cost you under $2 and meet your obligation to the copyright holder's rights and creativity.  (As far as honoring YouTube's right to ad revenue, you probably spent enough time watching the video with its ads already.)   In the US, we can legally purchase a song an store it on multiple devices for playback. Teachers can bring the song into the classroom and teach with the legally purchased song as well.

It's a brave new world, and as teachers, we need to do our best and have good intentions, but we should also not give up our historical and Federally protected rights.

Some Links:

YouTube's own "Fair Use" Foggy "Maybe"

Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister, author, and multi-media producer. He has been researching and writing about copyright law for Christian Education for a number of years.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

I just downloaded my first video ever!  Thank you for the great instructions!  I cannot wait to see them children's faces tomorrow morning when I play the video for them!  Thank you!

Susan Kolb


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