Re-thinking YouTube Downloads

Re-think YouTube

Do a search for “download youtube videos” and the results you get will offer up countless websites with instructions, services, tools, and videos dedicated to the subject. You would think that it was popular to download videos from the YouTube site, and you would be right. I’ve written numerous times on the subject of YouTube, outlining the benefits, but mostly I point out what a valuable resource the site is. Want to find a clip from a popular movie? Consult YouTube. Want to view that obscure music video from the 80’s? Consult YouTube. Want to watch your state’s governor deliver the latest information that will affect you? Consult YouTube.

Over the past year and a half I have written a few times on how to take YouTube videos and incorporate them into PowerPoint presentations (here, here, and here). Two of those methods involve downloading the videos and converting them to video formats that PowerPoint will recognize. One of them involves using the YouTube video live in the presentation. I received a comment on my post on Embedding YouTube in PowerPoint 2007 from “John” that was just a republishing of a section of YouTube’s Terms of Service:

5. Your Use of Content on the Site

In addition to the general restrictions above, the following restrictions and conditions apply specifically to your use of content on the YouTube Website.

  1. The content on the YouTube Website, except all User Submissions (as defined below), including without limitation, the text, software, scripts, graphics, photos, sounds, music, videos, interactive features and the like (“Content”) and the trademarks, service marks and logos contained therein (“Marks”), are owned by or licensed to YouTube, subject to copyright and other intellectual property rights under the law. Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use only and may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, distributed, transmitted, broadcast, displayed, sold, licensed, or otherwise exploited for any other purposes whatsoever without the prior written consent of the respective owners. YouTube reserves all rights not expressly granted in and to the Website and the Content.
  2. You may access User Submissions for your information and personal use solely as intended through the provided functionality of the YouTube Website. You shall not copy or download any User Submission unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the YouTube Website for that User Submission.

I don’t know whether anonymous John was trying to be helpful, or snotty, but there are several points I want to make about YouTube downloads. First, EVERY TIME you watch a video at YouTube’s site, or even embedded on another site, you are downloading it to your computer! You have no choice. You are not streaming it, you are using a technology known as Progressive download. Here’s proof (screencast “YouTube Video and Progressive Download“) Now if I download a video, then republish it in a PowerPoint video, then OK, you got me. However, if I’m sharing that presentation with students for their further enlightenment, then I have the start of an argument for Fair Use. Then depending on what content it is and how much, I hope to make my argument stronger. John posted his comment on the post that described the ability to embed a live video into PowerPoint, so if there is no live Internet connection, no video appears in the presentation. It is no different than embedding a video on another web page. It makes for a more seamless way of doing a presentation with web video, as opposed to switching out of Powerpoint and opening a web browser, then switching back to PowerPoint and continuing the presentation. Sorry John, the Terms of Service don’t apply here, or at best, it’s extremely muddy.

Which gets me to my next point. YouTube needs to rethink their download terms. Let me reiterate that the technology that YouTube uses to show videos breaks their own Terms of Service. They have begun to allow certain organizations the ability to offer “official” downloads and provide a download button. In an article from February, YouTube announced that they were exploring ways to offer videos offline. They were testing “testing free downloads of YouTube videos from Stanford, Duke, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCTV“. An example is “The Role of Creativity at Stanford“, a video from Stanford University that has a button to allow you to download an MPEG4 version of the video. YouTube is even experimenting with Creative Commons licenses, but I can’t see yet where an average YouTube member can implement these licenses. It is only open to approved partners, and the partners program isn’t a program you gain instant access to. YouTube is moving way too slowly for the average producer, and seem to bend over backwards to appease media companies with their shoot first, ask questions later take-down policy.

YouTube needs to catch up with Flickr in offering a streamlined way of licensing through Creative Commons. Instead, I see the monitization train coming on full speed ahead. Here’s an example of one of those partners participating in a test of revenue generation by offering downloads of their video, for $0.99. Copyright infringement is still rampant on YouTube, but I argue that it is good for the most part. If people are watching all ten parts of The Wedding Singer on YouTube, then more power to them. If they are using a program to download the videos and stitch them together again and burn them to DVD, then hire them as a New Media Specialist. Either way they are never going to make a good customer for purchasing the original DVD anyway. Now there are legitimate reasons to take down videos from sources that are already putting their content out on the web for free such as Comedy Central. They want the advertising revenue for their site, that makes sense, but come up with new models for other types of content. A good start is a link to the iTunes store for those obscure 80’s music videos.


Now I’m not saying that YouTube is doomed to fail (they’re obviously wildly sucessful), but they need to take a more balanced approach. YouTube is doing some good things with their YouTube EDU and non-profit sections. Now it’s time to make it easier to get the content out into the hands of the people who can make a difference, change things for the better, and do what the pioneers in this industry did in the first place – build on other people’s work. A little download help, please?!?


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