If you’re outside the United States, you’ve probably seen this message on YouTube before:
As the error message says, it’s a geographic restriction, meaning that the Copyright Cops in one country don’t want people in your country watching the video. Although this could be for political reasons, it’s usually all about the Almighty Dollar… or, in my case, the Almighty Pound Sterling.
One of my favorite bands, Saint Etienne, is based in the UK. And just yesterday their record label released the video for their new single, “Tonight”. As you can see from the screen cap, the video was only available to British IP addresses (they have since lifted that restriction). So how can you watch these blocked videos? Is there a way you can save them to your local computer, so you don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops later?
WATCHING GEOGRAPHICALLY-RESTRICTED VIDEOS
This part is easy. You can click here to download a free program called UltraSurf. This is the easiest proxy server app I’ve ever seen. And I mean the easiest by a long shot. There’s no setup or installation routine: just download the app, unzip it, close Internet Explorer (if open) and double-click the unzipped EXE file. When you do that, you’ll see this on your screen:
UltraSurf hooks in to Internet Explorer and automatically opens a browser window for you. In most cases, you won’t need to do anything else, other than enter the URL of the video you want to watch into the address bar:
When you’ve finished watching your video(s), just click the “Exit” button in UltraSurf. The software will close all your IE windows. The next time you start IE, you’ll be back to your normal, proxy-free surfing!
If you’d prefer to use Firefox instead of IE, read the section below.
SAVING GEOGRAPHICALLY-RESTRICTED VIDEOS
FlashGot will install via Firefox’s built-in add-on system, which is kind of like an App Store or Android Market for the browser. You will probably get a message which says that the extension will not be activated until you restart Firefox; go ahead and continue with the next step before restarting.
The UltraSurf extension requires manual installation. If you’ve never done this before, it’s pretty easy: download the XPI file from the linked page, and then click the orange Firefox button in the upper left corner of the screen. Choose “Add-Ons”. A new browser tab will open listing all your installed extensions. Look for a “gear” icon in the upper right corner of the window, click it, and choose “Install Add-on From File”:
Navigate to wherever you saved the UltraSurf extension and click on the XPI file. Firefox will then run through the same installation routine it did for FlashGot. Restart the browser when done.
When Firefox restarts, you’ll see some red text which says “WJ Disabled” in the status bar at the bottom of the browser window. Start UltraSurf, then click the “WJ Disabled” text. It should change to green text that says “WJ Enabled”. You can then go to the YouTube page for the video in question, and it should play normally (make sure the video is on the quality you want: 360p, 720p, 1080p, etc.) When the video starts playing, you’ll see a “film” icon blinking in the status bar:
Right-click it, and you’ll be presented with one (or more) options:
In my case, I wanted to download the 1080p version, which is 82MB. I clicked on that entry, and a box popped-up asking me where to save the file.
Remember that UltraSurf is a proxy service, so downloading the video will be really slow compared to your normal speed. I don’t know how long it took to download the Saint Etienne video – I set it up and went to sleep – but it had to have taken well over an hour, given the download speeds I saw at first.
If you don’t want to save the videos, but just want to use Firefox instead of IE, download the UltraSurf extension and ignore the bits about FlashGot. And even though FlashGot is a handy extension to have (it can download almost any kind of embedded Flash content, including mp3s and videos from sites other than YouTube), I prefer using YouTube Downloader HD to download non-restricted videos. It’s simple to use: download it, install it, start it, paste the URL into the address box, choose 360, 480, 720 or 1080 quality from the drop-down box, and click “Download”.
If you’re worried about the safety of UltraSurf, you might want to check out its Wikipedia page, which cites this Wired article from 2010 which calls it “one of the most important free-speech tools on the Internet”. There is a scary paragraph on the Wiki page which says that “unconfirmed speculation” has found “viruses and Trojans” in UltraSurf, but if you read the actual cite listed, it’s just a web page where someone talks about how the software triggered a false positive with his anti-virus software. This is a common occurrence for any software which alters your Internet settings. I wouldn’t worry about it. I mean, I might not trust UltraSurf if I were a Chinese dissident fearing for my life, but for downloading a YouTube video, it’s OK.