Captioning Youtube Videos You Don’t Own: How and Why to Do It

February 15, 2019 BY ELISA EDELBERG
Updated: January 3, 2020

More than 500 million hours of videos are watched on YouTube each day. While many of these videos are watched for pure entertainment, many are being shown in educational settings as well. Using YouTube videos as supplemental material in university courses has become quite common, but it’s posed an interesting challenge in terms of accessibility. Educators often wonder if they need to caption these YouTube videos or video clips that they don’t own. If they do need to, how do they do it, and is that legal? These are all great questions to consider which we will answer in the rest of this post.



Do You Need to Caption YouTube Videos Used for Education?

There are many reasons to add captions to educational videos in addition to accessibility. We conducted a nationwide study with Oregon State University and we surveyed students to see how and why they were using captions. The results proved that captions truly help students learn. 98.6% – almost ALL students – found captions helpful. In addition, 75% of all students who use captions (not just those who are deaf and hard of hearing) reported using them as a learning aid. The number one reason students used captions was to help them focus on the video content.

Other reasons to include captions are that it allows students to watch videos in sound-sensitive environments such as while studying at the library, to aid in comprehension, to help with spelling complex terminology, and to help better understand professors with heavy accents. In some cases, it may also be legally required to do so.

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. 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.

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 online-only classes.

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

Many people wonder if there is a conflict between copyright law and accessibility law for online video. Typically, providing accessible educational content is considered fair use in copyright law. What you do not want to do is illegally copy, publish, or distribute the video. Fortunately, there is a simple way of transcribing and captioning videos without republishing them – using the 3Play Plugin!


 Adding Captions to YouTube Videos is as Easy as 1, 2, 3 ➡️ 


How Do You [Legally] Caption YouTube Video’s You Don’t Own?

The best solution for captioning a web video you don’t own is using 3Play Media’s 3Play Plugin. The 3Play Plugin is a free tool that allows publishers to create a fully interactive and accessible video experience for viewers. It enables users to add captions, interactive transcripts, audio description, and SEO to videos they don’t own – including videos on YouTube. The 3Play Plugin is also customizable and compatible with most video players and publishing platforms, including LMS systems.

laptop demonstrating light and dark style with the interactive transcript

Here’s how it works with YouTube videos:

  • In your 3Play Media account, upload the video you want to add captions to. You can easily do this using the direct URL of the YouTube video you need to be captioned.
  • Order transcription and captioning
  • When your captions are done, select your video and choose Publish > Publish Plugin from the dropdown menu
  • Select Closed Captions and any other plugin features you want to appear with your video
  • Copy the iframe embed code and paste it into the HTML of your web page or LMS
  • 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 – 100% legally!

Quick Guide to Adding Captions to YouTube downloadable white paper.


This post was originally published on September 16, 2015 by Emily Griffin with the title How to Caption Someone Else’s YouTube Video. It has since been updated.


This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

3play media logo in blue

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