How to Caption Someone Else’s YouTube Video

September 16, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: February 21, 2018

Let’s say you’re designing a university course and want to include links to YouTube videos as part of supplemental coursework. Or you want to play a video in class that you found online.

Do you need to caption those videos?

Is it even possible to add captions to a video that you don’t own?

And how would you do that without republishing it illegally?

Let’s answer those questions one-by-one.

Do You Need to Caption YouTube Videos Used for Education?

There are so many good reasons to add captions to web videos, and in some cases, you may be legally required to do so.

If an institution of higher education accepts federal funding, they are bound by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to make all resources and communication universally accessible to people with disabilities. For deaf or hard of hearing people, that means adding closed captions to videos. Many state colleges accept federal funding and thus must caption any video used inside or outside of the classroom as part of coursework.

Even if a college doesn’t accept federal funding, some states require that their state colleges observe Section 508 accessibility requirements. State schools would also be subject to accessibility requirements of Title II of the ADA.

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act categorizes all institutions of education as “places of public accommodation” that must not discriminate against people with disabilities. This implies that all schools should caption videos used for educational purposes.

Video captioning requirements extend even to eLearning classes. Case in point: a deaf medical student sued the American Heart Association for failing to caption lectures in their required online class.

Can You Legally Caption YouTube Videos You Don’t Own?

While there is some conflict between copyright law and accessibility law for online video, the general consensus is that accessibility trumps copyright infringement. As one legal expert put it “no one has ever been sued for adding captions to video.” That’s because the temporary use of a video file for the purposes of transcription and captioning for students is generally considered fair use in copyright law.

What you do not want to do is illegally copy, publish, or distribute the video. Fortunately there are ways of transcribing and captioning videos without republishing them.

How Do You Caption a YouTube Video Without Republishing It?

The best solution for captioning a web video you don’t own is using a JavaScript plugin like 3Play Media’s Captions Plugin.

It works like this:

  • Send 3Play Media the URL of the YouTube video you need captioned.
  • Order transcription and captioning with the Captions Plugin.
  • When your captions are done, copy and paste the JavaScript embed code into your website’s HTML editor.
  • Once you publish this code on your website, it will display the original YouTube video with closed captions overlaid on top of it.

That means that the video’s original creator and publisher benefits from all the views of their video on your website. There’s no need to republish the video onto your YouTube channel, and you can still get the closed captioning you need.

Note that the Captions Plugin works with videos on many common video platforms other than YouTube, too.


Caption YouTube Videos Legally with a Captions Plugin

Captions Plugin


Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

The closed caption CC icon shown in the middle of a TV.