Geek Speak - Flash and grab for free videos

YouTube is often blocked in schools, but you can still use it if you know how. Jon Tarrant reveals the options

Whatever the topic of your next lesson, there is a chance that YouTube will have a video that could serve as an eye-catching starter. Unfortunately, YouTube also contains some rather unsavoury material and for that reason is on the blacklist of many IT departments' filtering systems.

The obvious solution is to search for the videos at home, download them and bring them into school on a memory stick. This is a fairly straightforward operation that can be carried out either by adding a video-grabbing tool to your browser or by using a web-based service.

Commercial video-grabbing tools, such as Total Video Converter and PimpFish have reliable, slick interfaces and are also likely to include file-format conversion software. This is important because the flash video format that is used by YouTube and other video websites may not be compatible with the video player that already exists on your computer. Of course, instead of converting the videos you could simply install a player that can handle flash video (*.flv) files, such as the excellent freeware program VLC.

To locate a video-grabbing program that can be downloaded as a free plug- in for your web browser, simply search for "video download plug-in" or some similar expression. Firefox users are well served, but if you are an Internet Explorer user then YouTube Downloader and FlvGrabber look like good choices.

The second option is to use a video-grabbing service such as KeepVid or dlThis. A small problem can arise in that the downloaded file arrives without an extension and is therefore treated as an unknown file type. To correct this, right click on the downloaded file, which will probably have a generic name such as "get_video" and select Rename when the context- sensitive menu appears.

The file name will then be highlighted so that you can type a more meaningful name, to which should be appended the requisite ".flv" ending: the result would be something along the lines of John_Smith.flv. Once that has been done the file should acquire a meaningful icon and double clicking on the name should cause it to open and play automatically - assuming that you have a flash video player installed.

Finally, a word of legal caution: YouTube and other video sites, such as Google, MSN, Yahoo, and, all have their own terms of use. In YouTube's case the only allowed use is streaming - watching the video live as it is delivered by YouTube.

That in turn means that downloading for later viewing is not permitted but, given the wealth of web resources that exist specifically for this purpose and have not been closed down by YouTube, it is possible to infer that this restriction is more for show purposes than for enforcement.

Further comfort can be found in the fact that a great place to learn about downloading YouTube videos is by watching some of the videos about this subject that have been posted on YouTube itself.

The best legal advice is that the copyright issue is covered by Section 35 of the Copyright Act, which permits re-broadcasting for educational purposes.

I emailed YouTube (three times) for clarification on whether educational off-line uses are acceptable. No contradiction has been forthcoming - although every user must assume individual responsibility, of course.

Jon Tarrant is head of physics at Hautlieu School in Jersey and is the island-wide VLE co-ordinator for Jersey's secondary schools.


Total Video Converter:



Firefox Add-Ons: https:addons.mozilla.orgen-USfirefox

"How-To" for Firefox: www.celticguitarmusic.comYoutube.htm

YouTube Downloader:




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