is one of the most commonly encountered digital video formats on the
Internet. Most movie trailers released online are in QuickTime
format. QuickTime has been chosen as the file format for MPEG-4
by the Motion Picture Experts Group. QuickTime is used by iTunes
to handle encoding and decoding of digital audio. Many digital
cameras save movies in QuickTime format. In short, QuickTime is
QuickTime gives filmmakers many ways of protecting their movies from
casual copying. Apple's developer documentation
discusses methods of copy
movies. These methods are in common use for the QuickTime movies available online.
Some movies can be viewed online, but not saved to disk for later
viewing. The inevitable result of this is that if you view a
movie online and wish to view it again later, you must download it
again, wasting network bandwidth and your time. For people with
slow connections, download caps, or usage charges, this is an even
greater problem. QuickTime also allows content authors to make
their movies unplayable on some computers based on, for example,
network bandwidth, operating system, or geographical location.
This means that it may not be possible for you to download some
movies. And even if you succeed in downloading them, QuickTime
Player may refuse to play them. Finally, some movies contain so many
extraneous "eye candy" tracks that these movies may not play smoothly
on older computers. Below, I will describe these
obstacles and how to overcome them. Using these instructions, you
should be able to download and view almost any QuickTime movie.
Lest it be thought that I am encouraging anything improper, let me take
a moment to make my intentions perfectly clear. Authors should have
control over distribution of their work. Copyright law has
respected – and even expanded – these rights over
the past two
centuries. However, the Fair Use rights of the public
also be upheld. QuickTime's copy protection mechanisms function
to discourage and prevent people from exercising their Fair Use rights.
For example, anyone may use excerpts of a copyrighted work for
criticism or parody; and QuickTime attempts to prevent just this sort
of thing. Furthermore, it is unlikely in the extreme that copy
protection mechanisms actually discourage real thieves; the people most
inconvenienced are ordinary users.
This guide is
intended for honest hackers, not thieves. With the iPod and the
iTunes Music Store, Apple has shown that respecting customers – rather
than treating them like criminals – is a winning
This guide is offered in the same spirit. Please do not infringe other
- How to save a QuickTime movie
from your web browser without QuickTime Pro
- How to save a QuickTime movie (in
some cases) even if the movie does not allow saving
- How to save a local copy of
- How to determine the URL of a movie
file by reading the contents
of a reference movie
- How to determine the URL of a movie file
by capturing the HTTP
- How to play stubborn QuickTime movies that
will not play in
1. How to save a QuickTime movie from
your web browser without QuickTime Pro
If you load a QuickTime movie in your web browser but have not
upgraded to QuickTime Pro, the "Save as QuickTime movie…" and "Save
source…" commands will not be available in the QuickTime plug-in.
Starting with version 3.0, Apple has offered an enhanced version of
QuickTime called QuickTime Pro for USD 30. QuickTime Pro adds
several important features to QuickTime. The one most people will
notice is the ability to save movies from the QuickTime web browser
plug-in. QuickTime Pro also adds editing features to QuickTime
QuickTime Pro is worth USD 30 for many people. However, there are
occasions when it may be desirable to download a movie to disk without
show you how to save movies to your hard disk without QuickTime Pro
- it may be
necessary for you to use a the computer of a colleage or friend who
does not have QuickTime Pro
- perhaps you feel
QuickTime Pro is not worth USD 30
- you may decide not to
for the Pro features after you update QuickTime to a new release1
When your web browser loads a QuickTime movie, most of the time it will
do so using the QuickTime plug-in. This is a browser plug-in that
allows the display of QuickTime content directly inside the web
browser. In the address bar in your web browser, you can see the
URL of the currently displayed file, be it a web page or another kind
If the URL in the address bar ends in .mov, then the file displayed is
a QuickTime movie. This is the simplest case, and saving the
movie to your hard disk in this case is a one-step process. All
you really have to do is choose "Save as…" from the File menu
web browser and then specify where you want to save the .mov file.
If the URL in the address bar ends in .html or another extension, but
you still see a QuickTime movie in the browser window, this means that
the QuickTime movie is embedded in a web page. This complicates
things a little bit because it means that you'll have to do a little
work to find out the URL of the movie file itself. The simplest
way to do this is often to view the HTML source of the web page.
Web pages are often divided into multiple frames, and each frame has
its own source. So viewing the source of the frameset page will
not always show you the URL of the movie. In such cases, you must
display the source of the frame in which the movie is embedded.
The best way to do this is to right-click (or control-click) just to
the side of the movie and choose "View source…" from the
contextual menu that appears. When the source window appears,
simply search through it for ".mov" until you find the URL of the
movie. Copy and paste this URL into a new web browser window (or
tab). When the movie has loaded completely, just choose "Save
as…" from the File menu to save it to disk.
2. How to save a QuickTime movie (in some
cases) even if the movie does not allow saving
There are a
couple of ways in which a movie can be protected from copying.
First, if the movie is embeded in a web page, the author can set
KIOSKMODE=True in the EMBED tag. If QuickTime plug-in sees this
setting, it will disable the save options, even if QuickTime Pro
is installed. However, in such cases one can view the
source of the web page (as described
above) and use the browser's "Save
as…" function to save the movie.
However, some movies are saved in such a way that even if you manage to
save the movie to you hard drive, if you then make any changes to the
movie, QuickTime Player will not allow you to save the edited
movie. An error message will appear that reads: "This movie does
not allow saving."
Video editing programs like Cleaner allow authors to save movies in
such a way that further changes to the movie are disallowed. When
the author saves the movie, he simply enables the "disallow saving"
check box. Some filmmakers chose to do this to prevent others
from altering their work. Others chose this option to discourage
users from making local copies of movies viewed online.
There are many reasons why an author might wish to control the use of
his work in this way, but there are also valid Fair Use rights that
must be weighed against such controls. There are practical
reasons that it may be necessary to alter a movie. For example,
some QuickTime movies that contain multiple tracks in addition to the
video and audio track do not play smoothly on older computers because
of the added computing power required to process the additional
tracks. With the extra tracks removed, such movies play more
smoothly. As an added benefit, they also occupy less space on
A good example of this is the movie trailer for The Two Towers.
The full screen version of this movie trailer, entitled
(TheTwoTowers_fs.l.mov) contains eight different tracks. If you
download the movie to you hard disk and open it in the QuickTime
Player, you can see the list of tracks by choosing "Show movie
properties" from the Movie menu. This particular file includes a
border on the top and bottom, splash screens for the beginning and end
of the movie, and other tracks ("sprite" and "tween" tracks for a
fade-in/out effect, a customized progress bar and customized start and
QuickTime requires extra CPU cycles to display these tracks. On
slower machines, this can often make the difference between a good
viewing experience and a bad one. The only two tracks that are
essential for this particular movie are the video and audio
tracks. Deleting the other six tracks makes the movie play much
more smoothly ("Delete Tracks…" in the Edit menu).
The slimmed-down version of the movie still contains the full 640x272
resolution video, and plays much more smoothly on older machines.
Unfortunately, because the creator of this movie turned on the
"disallow saving" option, it is not possible to save the movie
deleting these six tracks.
The "disallow saving" option is stored as a flag in the
file itself. The QuickTime player honors this flag and disables
options like saving and copying when a movie file with this option
enabled is open. It should be obvoious that for such movies, it
makes no difference whether QuickTime Pro is installed - it will not be
possible to use QuickTime Player to save them.
The best way to circumvent this problem would be to determine the
structure of the disallow saving flag. Once the flag's structure
is known, it would be possible to write a program to change the value
of the flag in a QuickTime movie. I am not aware of any program
that will perform this function. Until such a program is
available, it will not be possible to save a movie with the disallow
saving flag enabled.
If you're only interested in viewing the video an audio content of a
QuickTime movie, see the topic on VideoLAN Client,
3. How to save a local copy of QTPluginTemp
When you load a
QuickTime movie in your web browser, the QuickTime plug-in downloads a
copy of movie to disk. This a copy is stored in a location that
depends on the operating system and the user.
Mac OS X:
C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Temp
The temporary files are always called QTPluginTempXXXX where XXXX is a
pseudo-random number. The files are deleted as soon as they are
not needed by the QuickTime Plugin anymore. So as soon as you
close the web browser window where the movie is displayed, the file
will be removed automatically.
On Mac OS X, it's easy to make a copy of the temporary file when it is
done loading. Here's an example of how to do this:
$ ls -l
2 mlowry wheel 1048576 28 Jan 01:41 QTPluginTemp12345
Note: I'm not sure how to copy a QTPluginTemp file on
Windows. Every time I have tried to do this, Windows returns the
error "file already open".
On Mac OS X, there's an even better way to save the file: create a hard
link2 to the
file. Here's an example of how to do this:
There are several advantages to creating a hard link instead of a copy:
Once you close
the browser window in which the movie was displayed, the QuickTime
plug-in will remove the temporary file. However, if you have
created a hard link to the file, the file will still be present on
disk, and will still be accessible via the link that you created.
- A hard
link can be created any time after the temporary file has been created,
even before the temporary file has been completely downloaded;
- A hard
link requires much less space on disk; and
- Creating a
hard link is faster than making a copy.
4. How to determine the URL of a movie file by
reading the contents of a reference movie
you save a movie locally, the file saved to disk is very small - too
small to contain the actual movie. Usually this means that the
file saved to disk is not the real movie, but a small reference
movie that points to (refers to) the actual movie file.
These reference movies are often used to provide a different actual
movie file to the user based on his network or CPU speed. Reference
movies are also commonly used to hide the location of the actual movie
file from the user and thereby prevent him from saving a local copy to
disk. Many of the movie trailers available online are hidden
behind reference movies in this way.
If you want to save the actual movie to disk and not just the reference
movie, you must discover the URL of the actual movie file. The
URL is usually visible in the ref movie. Save the ref movie to
disk and open it in your favorite text editor. The URL of the
movie file will usually be visible. Just copy and paste this URL
into your web browser and save the movie to disk.
If you are downloading movie trailers from Apple's web site, you'll
probably notice a pattern emerging in the way the ref files and movie
files are named. Once you learn this pattern (there are actually
several patterns), you'll be able to skip the step of saving and
examining the ref file.
Apple's developer documentation has more information about
5. How to determine the URL of a movie file by
capturing the HTTP GET request
authors are very clever in hiding the location of actual movie file
from view. I recall that the full-screen version of the movie
trailer for Star Trek Nemesis implemented this method of
obfuscation. If one loaded the small, medium, or large versions
of the trailer, the movie files were hidden by an ordinary reference
movie. However, if one selected the "full screen" version of the
trailer, a more clever type of reference movie would be
downloaded. This movie was more than just a reference
movie. It was larger, for one thing. It contained
several tracks, including a splash screen, and customized
controls. It also contained instructions to launch QuickTime
Player and switch to full-screen view.
Then, the movie instructed QuickTime Player to fetch the actual movie
file over the network. Unfortunately, unlike a traditional
reference movie, the small movie that had been saved to disk and
launched in QuickTime Player did not contain a readable URL. So
it was not apparent what URL QuickTime Player was fetching.
Complicating matters further, no QTPluginTemp file was present.
Note: I'm not sure where QuickTime Player stores its temporary
Luckily, there's another way to download the movie file to disk, and
that is to find out the URL of the movie that is being loaded behind
the scenes by QuickTime. QuickTime Player and the QuickTime
Plugin of course hide all of this from the user, but in the background,
QuickTime sends an HTTP GET request to a web server to retrieve the
movie file. If you could find out what URL is being requested,
you could paste this URL into your web browser to download the movie
file to disk.
Discovering this URL is actually not too difficult. The instructions
below pertain to Mac OS X, but similar commands also exist on Windows.
- First, you
must identify the HTTP server that is being contacted by
QuickTime. While the movie is loading in QuickTime Player or the
QuickTime plug-in, open a Terminal window and run this command to look
for established HTTP connections to port 80:
netstat -an | grep ESTABLISHED | grep .80
- One of
these connections should be the connection downloading the movie.
If you have downloads going in your web browser, those will show up
too, so you'll have to use the process of elimination to find the IP
address of the server. Let's say that the server is
188.8.131.52 (One of Akamai's servers). The next step is to
capture the HTTP GET request to this server. Because many movies
available online are served by a cluster of load-balancing servers,
it's best to capture HTTP requests to the entire network to which the
web server belongs. Use tcpflow
to capture the request:
tcpflow '(dst net 184.108.40.206) and (dst port 80)' &
- Once the
tcpflow command is running in the background, reload the movie or load
another movie from the same server so that a new HTTP GET request will
be sent over the network. If all goes well, tcpflow will capture
the packet to a text file in the current working directory. The
URL of the movie file will be contained in the HTTP GET request.
Simply copy and paste this URL into your web browser to download the
movie file to disk.
6. How to view stubborn QuickTime movies that cannot
be viewed in QuickTime Player
the filmmaker great flexibility in how content is delivered. As
the Two Towers and Star Trek Nemesis trailers show,
movie makers can
add extra content and a customized appearance to their movies so that
what's presented to the viewer contains more than just video and audio.
QuickTime also allows the content creator to exercise control over
whether the movie is viewable at all. The QuickTime version of
NOVA program Mars Dead or Alive illustrates one way in which
of control can be exercised by filmmakers. The program files are
available from Nova's
Once you have download one of the movie files to disk, if you attempt
to open it in QuickTime Player on a computer located outside of the
United States, the movie will not be displayed. Instead, an image
will be displayed that reads:
"Due to rights restrictions, we do not have permissions to make this
program available for downloading."
The means that the movie file itself contains instructions that tell
QuickTime Player to check the viewer's geographical location4. In
this way, QuickTime will refuse to play if the viewer is not located in
the U.S. Movie creators could also design their QuickTime movies
to refuse to play based on other criteria. A movie might refuse
to play, for example, on Windows, or on a computer that does not have
QuickTime Pro installed.
But don't despair! It's not necessary to fool QuickTime
Player. There is another player program called VideoLAN Client that will play
most QuickTime movies. VLC plays only the video and audio content
of the movie; it does not attemt to perform any other instructions that
might be present in the movie file. Instructions that might
otherwise prevent the movie from playing on certain computers would
therefore be ignored.
VLC is an open-source video player that can play media files from hard
disk, DVD or Video CD. VLC can also play streaming media over a
network. VLC can play most types of media, including MOV, AVI,
WMF, and DIVX. It's available for Mac OS X, Linux, and
Windows. Because it is open-source, it can also be compiled for
just about any other platform. VLC is a great example of what can
happen when a dedicated group of programmers contributes to an
VLC plays the Mars Dead or Alive movies just fine regardless
the viewer happens to be sitting. Because VLC plays only video
and audio tracks, it can also be used to play movies like The Two
Towers trailer without wasting CPU cycles on the unnecessary extra
tracks. VLC has a playlist that can be used to play several
movies in sequence (e.g., the seven chapters of the Mars Dead or Alive
program). These playlists can be saved to disk for later
use. Another benefit of VLC is that it plays movies very smoothly
in full screen mode.
2004-01-26 First draft
2004-01-28 Second draft
1.2.0 2004-02-04 Published briefly
on Apple's QuickTime discussion forum
1.3.0 2004-02-06 Expanded introduction,
converted to HTML, minor improvements and corrections.
- With each new release of QuickTime, the
user must pay the thirty-dollar
Pro fee again or risk loosing the "Pro" features he paid for in the
previous release. For example, if you paid for QuickTime 5.0 Pro
then upgraded to QuickTime 6.5, you would loose the "Pro" features that
you had already paid for. You would then have to pay another
dollars to get the "Pro" features back.
The odd thing is that most of the new features in each new release of
QuickTime are available to all users of QuickTime, even those who do
not pay for
QuickTime Pro. The "Pro" features one gets by paying for the
Pro 6.5 are the same features one may have already paid for in
QuickTime Pro 5.0. In other words, users who don't pay for the
version still get many of the features of each new release; while users
who do pay for the Pro version are forced to pay again and again to
keep the same functions.
Apple does need to recoup its investment in QuickTime. Apple also
must pay licensing fees for the codecs included with QuickTime.
for popular features is an easy way to cover these expenses. If
you want to be
to easily save downloaded movies from your web browser, upgrading to
QuickTime Pro is probably the best way to do this.
- Here's a little background information
about i-nodes and hard links:
Each file in the file system has an inode. The inode is what
all the information necessary to find all the bits of the file
scattered across the platters of the hard disk. Each inode has a
unique inode number -- a serial number that is unique for each file
within a file system. inode 2 is usually reserved for the root
directory of the file system, and each subdirectory and file has its
own number greater than 2. Each file name in the file system is a
link to an inode. Most of the time, there is only one link per
but it's possible to create more than one hard link to a single
That's what the ln command above does. You might be familiar with
using the ln command with the -s flag to create a symbolic link.
That's something different, more akin to an alias. A symbolic
a special kind of file that points to another file. So a symlink
its own separate inode. A hard link is an entry in the file
directory file that points to a particular inode. You can list a
file's inode number with the 'ls -il' command. When the QuickTime
Plugin is done with a particular file, it removes the hard link to that
file. But of course the inode remains, and it's the inode that
contains all the information necessary to find all the bits of the file
on disk! So until the file system reuses that inode (i.e., to
another new file), the file data are still accessible. Having a
hard link to the inode means that even when the first hard link is
removed, there is still one hard link left. As long as there is
least one hard link to an inode, the file system will not remove or
re-use that inode. Creating a second hard link forces the file
to keep the file. Another benefit of creating a second hard link
that you can name it whatever you like as long as it is located in the
same file system (volume) as the original.
- If you
connect to the the PBS web server from outside the United States,
you will be redirected to a page that reads:
"We're sorry, due to rights restrictions this program is only available
for online viewing in the United States, its territories, possessions,
and commonwealths. You appear to be connected to the Internet from
outside these areas."
The web server appears to detect the location of the user by the IP
address of the connecting HTTP client. With a little effort, it is
possible to download the movie files to disk even if one is located
outside the US. Anonymizing
proxies can help with this.
- I'm not sure how QuickTime Player
determines the user's location. It does not seem to use the
computer's time zone or keyboard layout settings. QuickTime
Player refuses to play the movie even if the network is
diconnected. It would be very interesting to find out exactly how
QuickTime determines the user's location.