Why is YouTube Paying Legal Fees for Users?

This is a small step forward that could have some really positive consequences.

UFO Theater, with just over 1000 subscribers, is one of the channels YouTube is helping fight their fair use lawsuit.

UFO Theater, with just over 1000 subscribers, is one of the channels YouTube is helping fight their fair use lawsuit.

Here’s a question for you: if a company posts a movie trailer, are you allowed to repost that movie trailer on your own YouTube channel?

Although it happens a lot anyways, the real answer is no, you’re not. That’s copyrighted material that belongs to the movie’s producers and distributors.

But what if you talk over the trailer, or pause the trailer to point out things other viewers might have missed? (Yes, we have a bit of a personal stake in this; and on a related note, go check out our YouTube channel if you haven’t already.) If that’s the case, you’re actually protected by fair use laws that provide for the use of copyrighted material if you’re using it for purposes of commentary, criticism, news, or parody.

Most YouTube channels, though, are run by individuals or small teams, while the copyrighted material they might be using is often owned by huge corporations with stockpiles of in-house lawyers. That presents a problem when it comes to arbitrating disputes over whether something is fair use or not. Corporations can make suits easily, but it gets expensive fast for someone to defend their use of a video, image, or song.

I know you've seen this poster before. There was a massive fair use fight over it, because the artist didn't take the photo it's based on and didn't buy the rights.

I know you’ve seen this poster before. There was a massive fair use fight over it, because the artist didn’t take the photo it’s based on and didn’t buy the rights.

That’s why it’s pretty refreshing to hear that YouTube is getting into the business (to use the term loosely) of helping out its creators in their legal battles.

YouTube has announced they’re committing $1 million to a pilot program to pay the legal fees for four channels facing copyright infringement suits. Basically, this is a PR move for YouTube, trying to build creator confidence in the platform, but it could have really serious results for these channels and others YouTube might help in the future should they deem this pilot program successful.

Even just the threat of an actual legal battle might force some big companies to consider their content takedown requests more carefully, and that could be big for YouTubers. Many videos are dependent on breaking news, and so have a very limited shelf life. Even if a YouTuber won their legal fight, the time where the video in question would have been able to grab critical views might have passed.

YouTube could also use a good PR story right now. Although the jury’s still out on YouTube Red, and should be for some time, the gut reaction for most to the phrase “YouTube subscription” has been overwhelmingly negative. Taking another step to support regular content creators, including some pretty small channels, is a great step in the right direction for YouTube, and should be praised by YouTubers and YouTube viewers alike.