Have you come across a YouTube video that you’d like to use and you’re trying to figure out if it’s protected by copyright?
Unless the video:
- Is your own; or,
- The video specifically says that it’s free to use as part of the public domain;
…you can safely assume that the video is protected by copyright.
Copyright Protection is Automatic
The moment a person hits “save” on a video they’ve created, it’s protected by copyright. The creator doesn’t have to file with the federal government or do anything special to receive such protection; it’s theirs the moment their creative work is put into a fixed medium (in this case, video format). Even if you don’t see the copyright symbol or the word copyright, the copyright is still valid.
Are There Any Exceptions?
Yes, but very few. A video creator may waive his or her copyright and make the content available for anyone who may wish to use it, but this is all at the discretion of the copyright holder. The holder may also offer the video with a creative commons license, meaning that it’s available for public use royalty free, but the person using the video would be subject to any terms of the creative commons license, for example, that they must give some form of credit to the creator (link back to the YouTube Channel, name the artist, etc.).
You should also assume that older works in video format are also protected by copyright. Copyright protection lasts for a very long time: Any work created after 1978 lasts for the life of the artist plus 70 years with works created between 1923-1978 were good for 95 years, but subject to renewal. Of course, there is a possibility that an older video you want to use failed to have its copyright renewed, but you’ll need to do your homework to be absolutely sure of that fact.
Eventually, works that “age out” of the previous 95-year timeframe become part of the public domain (e.g. works from 1924 became a part of the public domain this year). However, you’re not likely to find too many of these works circulating on YouTube, as talking movies or “talkies” didn’t come out until 1927 and they are still protected by copyright. Additionally, if an old movie was remastered or edited to digital content it may have created a new copyright in that work.
So How Can I Use a Specific Video on YouTube?
If you want to use someone else’s copyrighted video on YouTube for any reason, you need to ask permission of the copyright owner. One way to do this is to visit the creator’s channel page and click on the “about” tab. On that page, there may be a way to get the creator’s or copyright owner’s email address for business inquiries. If the video creator is unresponsive this way, you may be able to find his or her website or other social media channels and try to make contact outside of the platform.
When in Doubt…
Don’t use any video on YouTube without permission! You will be infringing on someone’s copyright and you could be held liable for monetary damages. It’s not worth the risk. Alternatively, if you’ve discovered that someone has “borrowed” a video you posted online without permission and you’d like to know your options, please feel free to contact our copyright attorneys at 888-666-0062 to schedule an appointment.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.