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YouTube Firewall Workarounds

Why would you want to do this?

We were surprised when teachers started coming up to us at conferences saying that while they liked the fact that we had indexed all these "free to use" video resources, it did them no good. YouTube was blocked by their school's Internet firewall.

Schools will block sites like YouTube to prevent viewing of "questionable" content or, more likely, to prevent YouTube viewing from overloading the school's Internet connection.

In cases like this, a teacher's only option is to download the video somewhere with a usable Internet connection and bring the video file into the school on a USB thumb drive or via email (only an option for short videos).

This resource page looks at some of the options and issues surrounding downloading from YouTube.

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How to Download YouTube Videos

This post from PC Magazine is a great place to start and stay current with the various YouTube video download options. They update this post frequently as the tools involved change regularly - sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.

After reviewing why downloading videos is not the best way to support your YouTube content creators, it outlines a number of on-line and stand alone applications that can be used to download YouTube video files.

A great place to start and stay current on the issue.

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How to download YouTube videos for free

This post from TechRadar is another good source of information on downloading YouTube Videos.

It includes step-by-step instructions for:

  • 4K Video Downloader on PCs,
  • TubeMate on Android phones (which does not do you much good for classroom use),
  • options for Mac's and iPhones, and
  • a good overview of the different video formats (hint, just use MP4) and video quality.
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4K Video Downloader

We tried out 4K Video Downloader, reviewed in both articles cited here. 4K Video Downloader is a stand alone program with versions for PCs, Macs and Linux systems, and comes in paid and free versions.

We tried installing it on our PC with good results. Copy the YouTube URL from your browser toolbar and click the [+] Past Link button to start the decoding process. You are given a choice of formats and the downloads worked with no problems.

Fair Use, Licenses and YouTube

Copyright law includes a concept called Fair Use. One of the four factors in Fair Use is the purpose and character of your use. Another is the effect of the use upon work's value.

Playing a YouTube video in the classroom directly off the Internet is not a violation of Copyright or YouTube's terms of service. Downloading the video so you can play it in the classroom with blocked Internet access is probably Fair Use and should not affect the work's value. To ensure this, make sure you play the video all the way thru on your computer at least once. That way the creator will get credit for the video view and there will be no effect on the work's value.

On the other hand, if you give copies of the video file to everyone in the classroom (lowering the work's value), that would be crossing the line.

Giving everyone the URL link to the video (or embedding YouTube video links in a web page, as we do here) does not affect the work's value as people are still viewing the video thru YouTube, and the creator will get the appropriate credit.

As with all things legal, your mileage may vary.

The best solution would be to just give teachers a way to bypass the firewall when needed.

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TunnelBear VPN

Another workaround when dealing with firewalls is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like TunnelBear.

A VPN takes your Internet traffic, encrypts it and sends it past the firewall to a server computer somewhere else where it is unpacked and sent on via the Internet. Data coming back to your computer goes first to the VPN server where it's encrypted and then sent back past the school firewall and into your computer.

Setting up a VPN can be a little harder and most reputable services are not free. TunnelBear has had a good reputation and has computer applications and browser add-ons that make it easier. You can give it a try for free and see if this solution works for you.


As noted in the PC Magazine post, software apps can be "updated" and end up so full of extras they get flagged as malware by antivirus tools. Helper websites can go from benign to spammy overnight.

It's always a good idea to have up-to-date anti-virus software installed on your computer. And if it flags your favorite download tool as not safe, accept its judgment and use a different program.

The PC Magazine post is updated on a regular basis to reflect the latest safe choices. It's a good resource to stay current.

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