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Copyright, YouTube, and What You Need to Know to Stay Legal


Part 4 of 5


Infringing on a copyright — whether it’s someone doing it to you or you doing it to someone else — brings consequences. YouTube takes the breach seriously and will take down the infringing video if it’s found to be guilty of violating copyright.

Worse yet, it also penalizes the offender with a strike. And just like in baseball, if you take three strikes, you’re out.

YouTube gives both you and your channel the boot if it gets to this point.

To ensure that it doesn’t happen to you, follow this advice:

Remember Who Owns the Copyright

It’s fairly simple: If you created the video, the copyright belongs to you; if you upload content created by someone else, the copyright belongs to that person and you need permission to use it.

As soon as the work is created, so is the copyright. And since 1992, there’s no longer a renewal process. Copyright lives with the creator — and even lives on for a period after the death of the creator.

Attribution Does Not Absolve A Copyright Violation

Let’s say you repost someone else’s video as your own. You already know that’s stealing and blatant infringement.


But let’s say you repost someone else’s video, or a good portion of that video, and you add a line saying, “Created by ___” and insert their name.

Is it still a breach? Yes. And it can earn you a strike and get the video blocked.

Basically, the law says that if you use someone else’s work in your video without that person’s permission, it doesn’t make it less of an offense just because you give the person credit.

You’re still in violation because attributing the creator doesn’t absolve you if don’t get permission.

Of course, there is “fair use,” something that only applies in certain countries. We’ll talk a bit about that in a moment.

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Two Methods of Discovery

The first method is if someone notices that you’ve posted their content on your channel, they can notify YouTube and ask them to take action. This is a takedown notice, and it is a legal process, so don’t lodge one of these yourself unless you are absolutely certain you’re in the right.

The second method is Content ID Match, a system YouTube uses to automatically match content that violates copyright against the millions of videos uploaded every month to the site.

For Content ID to work properly, copyright owners have to upload so‐called reference files — original versions of their work that prove they own the rights.

Normally, record labels, movie studios, or TV stations go through this process for all the work they publish, so individual artists don’t have to worry about it.

Every new video uploaded to YouTube is checked against this huge library of reference files, and if there is a match, YouTube automatically files a copyright claim for the owner of the work.

It doesn’t matter if your aim is to make money from the videos you post or not. The rules are still applied the same way.

How to Get Permission to Use Copyrighted Material

While fair use is complicated (more on this in a moment) permission is not.

It’s often entirely possible to get permission to use someone else’s copyrighted material.


By asking.

A nicely written note explaining how you will use the content is often enough for a rights holder to grant permission.

Sometimes the permission comes with the restriction that you cannot monetize the material. If so, you’ll have to decide if you still want to use it or not.

And marketers, here’s a big bonus: If you ask a fellow marketer (regardless of your niche) if you can use his or her material in your own video because you love it, because it’s spot on, because it’s the greatest thing you’ve seen all month, etc…

…it’s entirely possible you might make a new ally/friend / partner in your niche.

It’s flattering to be told that something you created is so wonderful, someone else wants to incorporate it into their own project. Many a friendship and even business relationship has started this way.

Fair Use Is Complicated

Many misconceptions exist surrounding fair use.  One of the most popular is that you can use anything you want as long as you don’t go beyond a certain time constraint or amount.

But it’s much more complicated than that.

In certain editorial situations, you can use copyrighted material without permission.  And to avoid trouble, it’s best to fully understand these situations before proceeding.

Here a few generally acceptable uses to consider:

  • Criticism and reviews: Reviewing a movie or some form of music makes it perfectly acceptable to use copyrighted material without permission. For example, you might use a short clip of the work you critique.
  • Parody: If you’re poking fun at something, it can be acceptable to use content without first gaining permission.
  • Commentary: This one is broader and more general and depends on how you use the material. If it’s used just enough (and no more) to illustrate your point, it’s generally acceptable. For example, gamers on YouTube often record themselves playing a new video game and offer funny observations. This is, within limits, fair use.

These are general guidelines and most definitely NOT legal advice.

3 Strikes = A Lifetime YouTube Ban

You don’t want this on your record, nor do you want to lose your videos, all of your video views, comments and so forth.

Obviously, it’s best to avoid strikes altogether.

There are Two Types of YouTube Strikes:

  • Community Guideline Strikes: These can result from a variety of reasons, ranging from uploading objectionable content to having a misleading thumbnail or caption.
  • Copyright Strike: If someone lodges a complaint that you stole their material, or you get a Content ID claim lodged against you, either can be turned into a strike if you don’t appeal and win that appeal. Or another option is to remove the video, to prevent the strike from occurring.

Things You Should Know:

  • Every strike means you go back to school. With every strike, YouTube requires that you take an online course in ‘copyright school’ and then take a quiz to be sure you understand copyright regulations.
  • Strikes don’t last forever. As long as you don’t have three strikes, the strikes you do have will eventually disappear – usually after six months.
  • If found guilty, your fate rests with the lawful copyright holder. That person can decide if your video should be removed, flagged in certain regions or even monetized. Yes, that’s right: Even though your video may contain only a small portion of the person’s material, that person is entitled to all monetization proceeds. S/he can even put ads on your video if you haven’t already added monetization.

To Appeal, or Not to Appeal

If you get a copyright strike from YouTube, but you’re certain you’re in the right, then go ahead and appeal the strike.

But, if you’re not sure whether you can win (You know you did something you should not have done) then it might be better to wait it out until the strike expires.

Once you appeal a strike, your personal information goes to the person who claims to own the copyright. They can then possibly (highly unlikely, but possibly) sue you for copyright infringement.

If the situation gets to this level, try to work out an agreement directly with the copyright holder, and ask them to file an appeal with YouTube on your behalf. You’ve got nothing to lose by apologizing and asking for their help.

Last Thoughts:

Don’t use other people’s stuff on YouTube unless you’re certain it’s safe to do so. YouTube is amazing at detecting content that has already been posted to the site.

When in doubt, ask for permission.

If you are certain you are in the right, then appeal and get the matter properly cleared up.

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