A No-Brainer Guide to Legally Downloading YouTube Videos

Although it's easier than ever to stream YouTube videos anywhere, anytime, you may have reason to want a hard copy on your phone or computer. Maybe you're prepping a playlist for a flight with shitty Wi-Fi, or have maxed out your data plan bingeing too many hilarious clips. Good news: It's easy to download anything from YouTube to your device of choice. 

Before we get into the details, note that YouTube doesn't take kindly to people grabbing video they shouldn't, and Thrillist does not endorse or condone the illegal downloading of copyrighted material. That said, there are legal ways to navigate this practice. Here's how to go about it.

Finding videos with built-in download links

Although the vast majority of videos uploaded to YouTube are covered under the service's Standard License, users do have the option to upload their work under a Creative Commons license (as long as it's their own creation and not third-party content). Sometimes, this means they've generated a download link inside the description portion of the video, which you can simply click to get a copy of the video. It's easy to filter videos by the type of license -- simply enter a search term then tap the "Filters" box that pops up beneath the query bar above the search results and select "Creative Commons" under the Features section.

To download YouTube videos on your computer...

You have a few different options when it comes to downloading to a desktop, starting with special (free) software. One of the more popular and reliable in this realm is called 4K Video Downloader, which is available for both Mac and Windows and makes it easy for you to grab hard copies of any YouTube clips in up to 4K quality. Once installed on your machine, launch the application, drop in your video-of-interest's URL, and voila, it'll automatically save to your downloads folder. 

If you'd prefer not to add another piece of software to your computer, there are also a multitude of YouTube video "grabbers," which facilitate the conversion of videos into certain file formats and provide a simple a download link. These sites will also often allow you to convert YouTube videos to MP3 files, if you just want to save the audio. 

There are literally hundreds of these types of sites out there -- and many disappear due to legal threats. Search and you'll find the steadiest, most professional sites around. One important note: Some sites can look and feel a little sketchy, so if it seems like you should steer clear of one for any reason (or your browser warns you as much), you probably should.

On your phone or tablet

Saving videos to your mobile device can be a little more involved. For Android, there are acouple of apps you can download outside the Google Play store that will facilitate saving YouTube videos, though using them may require you to tweak the general security settings on your phone. For iOS, try downloading the file manager app Documents 5, which features a built-in browser where you can visit one of those "grabber" sites mentioned above to download files directly onto your device.

Of course, the most reliable, secure, legit, and 100% legal way to save videos offline is to subscribe to YouTube Red, the service's relatively new premium version which offers "offline viewing" of videos as one of its main features. It costs $10 a month, but that also includes being liberated from any and all ads across the site, as well as access to original premium content and an ad-free version of its proprietary music-streaming service.

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.