9 Things You Should Know About Copyright and Fair Use on YouTube

If you’re out making videos for YouTube, especially if you’re trying to monetize your content, you should be aware of your rights and responsibilities when it comes to copyright. Copyright gives creators of original works the exclusive rights to it. In some cases, you could use other people’s work in your videos without their permission; in other cases you need permission. Whatever you do with your videos, you should check out these nine tips that YouTube creators should know when it comes to copyright. Please note that we’re not lawyers, so take this guide as it is and consult a lawyer (the last tip below) for further insight.

1. Don’t Steal

Whatever you do, don’t use creative works on your YouTube video without asking for permission. Infringement could possibly put you in a world of trouble even if you cited the work in your video or in the credits. You could be hit with a cease and desist order or worse (think lawsuit) if the copyrighted material isn’t taken down. That said, there are times when using copyrighted material doesn’t require permission.

2. Know About “Fair Use”

Depending on the type of content, you could use copyrighted material for “fair use” if you’re making commentary or parodying a certain work. Recording the last few minutes of “The Avengers” from your smartphone and posting it on your latest YouTube vlog doesn’t make the cut. Sorry.

3. Use Creative Commons and Public Domain As Much As You Can

Creative Commons and public-domain files are a great tool if you need something like a musical score for your latest vlog or web series. It keeps production costs down because CC files are absolutely free. All you have to do is give them credit; it’s only fair.

4. You Can Fight Unlawful Takedowns

Larry Zerner, a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney, told NMR that if a company is forcing you to take down a video that infringed their copyrighted work when you clearly know you’re using it for “fair use,” you can sue for unlawful takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He cited the example of Stephanie Lenz’s lawsuit over Universal Music’s takedown of her YouTube home movie that used Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” which is currently in litigation. Zerner said, “Somebody’s pushing back, because the studios will push people around because they don’t want to fight over what’s ‘fair use.’”

5. Get Familiar With The Copyright Office

The United States Copyright Office will be your friend once you start creating content. Although you have copyright once the work is created, registering your work with the Copyright Office is useful if you ever have to deal with the legal system. Larry Zerner told NMR that it’s the best advice he gives his clients. Even though registering for copyright protection will set you back $35 for each uploaded work, it will be advantageous for you should you try to seek copyright infringement damages in court.

He said: “[It] gives you certain remedies if you’re infringed, most notably attorneys’ fees in a lawsuit and also statutory damages. You only get those if you’ve registered either prior to the infringement or within 90 days of your publication. A lot of people will just wait, but if you waited 90 days after you put it up, you won’t get attorneys’ fees or statutory damages, which sort of kicks all the teeth out of even a demand letter.”

For more information on registering your copyright, check out the Copyright Office’s website.

6. Make Sure You Have Contracts

Ensuring that you have contracts for your intellectual property and the people involved in your project is essential in staving off frivolous lawsuits that may arise. Read them carefully and fulfill your end of the bargain.

7. Familiarize Yourself With YouTube’s Copyright Policies and Terms Of Service

YouTube has a page dedicated solely to copyright policies, including information about its Copyright Verification Plan and ContentID, which are automatic tools that give users control of what they want to do with their copyrighted material on the website. Users can block, monetize or do nothing with their content.

YouTube’s copyright page also delves into copyright infringement violations. For instance, if you receive multiple reports of copyright infringement, your account and the videos you uploaded will be deleted. Your account and videos can also be removed because you violated YouTube’s Terms Of Service. Reading up on the Terms of Service is essential for all content creators.

8. Know About YouTube’s Takedown Procedures

When a third party user files a copyright complaint on YouTube or if ContentID detects copyrighted material, you will be notified by YouTube with a detailed explanation of why your video was rejected or removed. If you legitimately feel that YouTube made a mistake, you have the option of disputing that removal by filing a complaint through this form. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has tools for content creators about the takedown process and what you should do if it happens.

9. Consult A Lawyer

You can search the Internet or head to your local library and read everything about copyright law under the sun, but the complexities may distract you from doing what you do best — creating content. Your best asset when filming YouTube content is consulting with a lawyer. Since we can only give you so much information, finding a lawyer that specializes in entertainment and/or copyright law will be a great investment in the long run.

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