Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

YouTube officially discourages downloading of videos and puts significant programming barriers in the way of doing so. Your downloads may be breaking on purpose.

Dear Leo. There's a current problem with converting from YouTube to mp3 files. This has been OK for many weeks in the past. I've been using video to mp3 by simply entering the URL address and a conversion to mp3 has been no problem. However, at the moment, this program does not function and similar conversion programs do not work. Do you have any information to aid in this matter?

In this excerpt from Answercast #35, I look at how YouTube protects online videos from being downloaded and how that will often break software meant to download those videos.

Download Youtube videos

The problem isn't so much a technical one (although it is) as much as it is a... I'll even call it a legal one.

Here's the deal:

  • What you're attempting to do with YouTube is against YouTube's terms of service.

  • They don't want you to be able to download YouTube videos or convert them to other formats. It is essentially a form of piracy when you do so.

What they do is every so often make a change on their site; it may be intentional to thwart these kind of programs; or it may be a change for some other reason that accidentally happens to cause these programs to begin failing. But they don't care.

Preventing YouTube piracy

They don't want these programs to work in the first place.

  • So the short answer is yeah, it's going to happen; it's going to happen regularly.

What you're doing is not officially supported by YouTube and it's actually actively discouraged by YouTube.

Downloading programs keep up

Now, having said that, there are many programs that do this kind of thing – and they all face exactly the same problem when YouTube makes a change: they all break.

The thing to do is to keep an eye on new versions of that software that you're using. See when they update to chase the changes that YouTube has made.

My guess is the program that you're using will be updated at some point in the not-too-distant future to take into account any of the changes that YouTube has made. Then, they'll start working again.

Game of cat and mouse

But that's really what it boils down to – it's a game of cat and mouse, if you will, with YouTube making changes to essentially prevent these kinds of programs from working – and then these programs making changes to account for the changes that YouTube just made.

Article C5585 - July 14, 2012 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 14, 2012 11:45 PM

Leo, you've posted instructional videos on YouTube before. Did you give up ownership or intellectual property rights by doing so? I always thought YouTube was a hosting site similar to, say, Dropbox where photos, documents, and videos can be freely shared. Shouldn't you be the one to decide if people can download your videos?

No, one does not give up intellectual property rights when posting to YouTube. There are terms that you agree to, and options you can choose (for example I choose to retain copyright, yet allow embedding of my videos on other people's sites).
V. Belmont
July 17, 2012 7:15 PM

Actually I think there is one completely legal way in which to download videos/MP3s, etc. from YouTube. Its in the YouTube terms of service where it says, no downloading unless the page has a Download link button imbedded in it. Well the tricky genius part of it is that Google also owns and offers Chrome, and among the possibly suspicious gathering of download plugins there is one, made and offered by YouTube that embeds the download button on any YouTube web page, completing the circle and meeting the YouTube terms of service.

The name is YouTube Downloader: MP3 / HD Video Download from, and again, the key action is it places the Download button in the web page itself, meeting TOS.

July 17, 2012 11:56 PM

On a similar note, FireFox browser has an add-on to download YouTube videos, the downloader. It allows you to skip the URL documentation.

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.