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.

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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 re-post 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.

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.

Busted! What to Do When YOU Get Hit with a YouTube Copyright Claim

You post a review of a movie on your YouTube channel, and next thing you know, you’re hearing from the studio’s lawyers about how you’ve infringed on their copyright and you’re about to get sued if you don’t take the video down.

What can you do?

More than you think.

One experienced YouTuber (who wants to remain anonymous) offers his advice on how to handle YouTube copyright disputes.

How long have you been on YouTube and how many copyright claims have been filed against you?

I’ve been on for 10 years full time, and I’ve been hit with over 1,000 copyright claims. Most people are shocked by this and think this many claims would put me out of business.

But here’s the thing – I’ve successfully beaten every single claim that I disputed.

Notice I said I won everyone that I disputed. When I was just getting started, I made some stupid mistakes, using copyrighted songs. Instead of disputing those, I simply deleted the videos.

Why have there been so many copyright claims against you?

I do movie reviews – a LOT of movie reviews, and sometimes I like to use movie clips inside my reviews.

Are there certain types of clips that tend to be flagged more often than others?

YouTube uses a program called Content ID Match to help users discover if their content is being used by someone else. I’ve found that audio triggers Content ID match claims 4 times more often than video segments.

And interestingly, footage from trailers always gets tagged. Which is why I’ve been hit so many times.

If you want to show copyrighted work in a fair use context – avoid pulling the source material from YouTube itself, like using a movie trailer clip.

Are some studios more aggressive than others? Which ones have been the hardest to deal with?

MGM rejects every dispute of mine automatically, without reviewing. This forces me to risk an actual copyright strike by appealing it. But at that point, they’ve always backed down.

There’s another company in Europe, GRUPA BB MEDIA Ltd, that handles international licenses for some American movies. They don’t understand fair-use law, so I’ve had to call them out on it and basically give them an education.

It’s important to realize that you can still defend trailer footage as fair use. I’ve done it probably a thousand times. But it will almost always trigger Content ID match claims, which forces you to go through the dispute and appeal process to defend your content.

How do you successfully contest these claims? What’s the basis upon which you contest them?

When you get the copyright notice from YouTube, the next step is to file a dispute – it only takes about a minute and it’s really simple and easy.

But here’s the thing – when you do this, you have to check a box that’s next to bold, intimidating, scary looking letters that say,” I understand that filing fraudulent disputes may result in a termination of my YouTube account.”

This is the point where a lot of YouTubers get scared and back down without defending themselves against what I think of as the content bullies. If you’re in the right and you know you’re in the right, you need to file your dispute. Don’t let these big companies steal your money or your hard work.

The weird part is, movie reviews – at least positive ones – HELP the studios to sell movie tickets. Yet their automatic systems are continually telling us to stop, and so we have to continually tell YouTube that what we’re doing is 100% legal.

So, when you get to that scary, bold sentence about fraudulent disputes, and you know you’re in the right, just click the box that says, “I am sure that my video meets the legal requirements for fair use and I want to dispute the claim.”

What do you do after you tick that box?

Next, you click “continue,” and on the next page I copy and paste my “fair use defense,” sometimes slightly modified for the particular case.

I can’t tell you what to write here, because what you fill in will depend on what’s in question – a song? A video? Something you have a license to? Or simply a short video clip?

You can find plenty of examples online for how to defend your particular case. Tailor your defense to what’s appropriate for the claim. And save that defense, because you will likely be able to use almost the exact defense the next time one of your videos is disputed.

After you do that, type in your digital signature and click “continue.”

Now you’re on a confirmation page. Click “Submit” and “Ok” and you’re done.

It’s that simple.

Can claims lead to termination of my channel?

Absolutely not. I’ve routinely carried dozens at a time. You might stand accused, but according to YouTube, you are still innocent until proven guilty, and if you’re not guilty, then you have nothing to worry about.

How much time does it take for each dispute?

About 1 minute for each. That takes care of about 60-70% of them. The rest get denied at the dispute level, necessitating an appeal, which takes another minute or two.

Over the course of 10 years, I’ve probably spent 24 hours total on these things. Generally, I just set aside a half-hour each week to stay on top of them, and that’s plenty.

Is there a lot of misinformation about YouTube’s copyright laws?

Yes, I think so, because blaming YouTube for a “broken system” is easier than admitting it works remarkably consistently on millions of videos every day.

Also, a lot of people confuse “receiving a match claim” with something far more serious, like an actual strike – which would require losing both the dispute and appeal.

Any last words of advice?

If you’re using something like a song for your background video music, make sure you’ve got permission. And keep good records of that permission, too.

If you’re using just a few seconds – basically sampling someone else’s video and giving attribution to the original creator, you should be fine. Mind you, I’m not a lawyer. But ten years on YouTube does show that the system – however scary to a newcomer – works.

Never be intimidated by a big company. They send out those notices automatically because the computer program flagged something in your video. You just have to respond appropriately, and you’ll be fine.

Study up on YouTube’s Content ID Match so you know how it works. It’s best to be informed, so when you get your first dispute, it doesn’t scare you into deleting your video.

I knew one guy who was so terrified to receive a dispute, he deleted his entire channel. Don’t be that guy.

Hans David

    1 Response to "Copyright, YouTube, and What You Need to Know to Stay Legal"

    • Mandy

      Thank you for all this helpful info about YouTube copyright infringement… I’ve faced some simple stuff with songs lately and this helps a lot.

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