One of my pet hates is people’s ignorance of digital copyright laws, especially in regards to YouTube. I think the reason it annoys me so much is that as a YouTube Creator myself, I am really careful to ensure that I don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright when producing content. For most videos this means I normally have to pay to license a piece of music.
As well as the ignorant, there’s also those who are angered by the fact that copyrighted content is identified and flagged to the content’s owner.
In its purest form, you can't upload content to any website if, either in full or in part, it contains content which you didn’t create yourself, or it contains any content that you don’t have permission from the person who made it to use it.
Of course, it’s not just music than can get you in trouble. Any audiovisual works, such as TV shows, movies, and online videos are subject to copyright. Written works, such as lectures, articles and books. Visual works, like paintings and posters and even video games.
Whether it’s photos or video on Facebook, images in a blog, music on Soundcloud or videos on YouTube, you need to have permission to upload that content. Adding lines like “no copyright infringement is intended” do absolutely nothing to prevent the content owner coming after you.
Similarly, crediting the copyright holder and refraining from monetising the video does nothing for you legally.
Recently a few friends have said things to me like “but it’s only my wedding video,” or “the video is for a good cause, they won’t mind.” These are not valid excuse and in fact in most cases the content will never be reviewed or assessed in these terms by the content owner or Google.
Here’s how it works. If you are a record label, movie studio or television network you can upload your content to YouTube and register it for Content ID and specify rules on how you’d like to deal with infringements in advance. YouTube then scans every video which is uploaded and checks to see if any of it matches your content, if it does then an automated process takes places, your pre-specified rules come in to effect.
If an illegal version of their content is uploaded, the copyright owner can:
a) Do nothing
b) Monetise the video with their own ads
c) Block the video globally or in a specific country or territory.
So, you see, in most cases no one is looking at the video to determine whether it’s just for a wedding video or if it’s for a good cause.
Facebook has similar audio/video fingerprinting technology and will remove content that infringes copyright. Facebook seems to be stricter than YouTube on this as they don’t currently give content owners the ability to monetise their content.
What happens to you and your YouTube channel or social media accounts if you do infringe on someone’s copyright?
On YouTube, due to the fact content owners can claim their content and monetise it, in most cases you will actually get away with it with music but you won’t be able to monetise the video yourself and it will display ads to generate revenue for the content holder.
A couple of years ago the Harlem Shake went viral on YouTube as thousands of users uploaded short videos of themselves dancing using the song. The DJ, Baauer who made the song allowed the videos to stay on YouTube and opt for option ‘b’, to monetise the videos and he made a fortune for it. For every play of every Harlem Shake video Baauer got paid.
However, if he hadn’t like his song being used in this way, he could have just as easily automatically taken down all of the video.
When it comes to visuals like TV show and film clips, content owners are usually a lot stricter and content is almost always removed or blocked by territory.
Not all copyrighted content is discovered using Content ID, sometimes a content owner might search for or stumble across their works in your videos. In this case they can report your video and issue a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown. If Google deem the DMCA takedown to be a genuine claim then your video will be removed and you will receive a “copyright strike.” Repeated strikes can lead to having your YouTube channel shutdown.
The fact is, you might get away with using copyright material in your content but you don’t know for sure what will happen to your content and your account if you do.
Back in the early days of YouTube I used some commercially available music in a video and the record label chose to monetise my video. This didn’t effect my channel at all, I still went on to become a YouTube Partner and my account is in "good standing” in accordance with YouTube’s community guidelines but I was lucky.
Not long after Google bought YouTube they were getting sued by television networks from all around the world for copyright infringements and thousands of videos were removed and whole channels shut down. This is why Google imposed these rules on content, they weren’t doing it to make Creators lives difficult, they did it to protect them because at the end of the day it’s you breaking the law, not YouTube and no one is exempt.
Earlier this year, YouTube star, Michelle Phan was fined for using a copyright music in her video by a record label. The label wanted their share of the revenue from Michelle’s video as well as damages for using the music without permission. She was ordered to pay $88,000 per copyright infringement of which there were 50.
Similarly, using a photo from Google Image search in your blog can cost you a fortune should the photographer find your post. An amateur blogger was recently order to pay $2,000 for stealing a photo even though she made no money from he blog at all but this was the photographer’s standard rates for licensing a photo plus expenses.
There’s no excuse and no exception, everyone from small vloggers to large companies and YouTube multi-channel networks need to be legally compliant and ensure they don’t infringe on other people’s copyright. While you can use some copyrighted material through "fair use” and creative commons you need to be familiar with what you can use and how you can use it to avoid legal trouble.
The best solution is produce and upload your own original content and where necessary purchase the correct licence to you stock video, photos and music in your videos. If you can’t afford this cost then learn about fair use and take advantage of YouTube’s free music library.