Manage copyright permissions

Identify when you need copyright permission as you upload to YouTube and when exceptions might apply to copyright law.

  • Estimated time to complete: 20 Min
  • Level: “I'm new to copyright permissions”
  • Date: November 5, 2019
    1. Copyright permissions overview

      We go over what you need to keep in mind when trying to acquire permission to use someone else's content in your videos, and some common misconceptions about Copyright on YouTube.
    2. Know when you need copyright permissions

      Before you upload your next great video, you should secure the rights to all parts of your video. This includes video clips, photos and any music, even if it's not the main focus of the video.

      How do I gain the rights to use someone else’s content?

      1. Get permission. Reach out to the copyright owners directly and negotiate the appropriate licenses for your use. YouTube cannot grant you the rights to use content that has already been uploaded to the site or help you to find or contact the people who may be able to grant these rights.
      2. Look at the license. Licenses have explicit permission for using the content and often include limitations for how the content is used. You should seek legal advice for any licensing agreement to be certain which rights are granted and which rights are reserved by the owner.

      If you wish to use someone else’s YouTube video, you may want to reach out to them directly. Some users list ways they can be contacted in their channel. Learn more about how to contact other users here.

      Head’s up: Just because you purchased content or give the copyright owner credit, doesn't mean that you have the rights to upload it to YouTube. Be very careful when accepting purely verbal or “handshake deals.”

    3. Public domain and creative commons

      Public domain

      Copyright protects works for a set period of time. The length of a term of copyright protection depends on various factors, such as the date and place of publication and whether it’s a work of corporate authorship.

      When works eventually lose their copyright protection, they enter the “public domain,” making them free for everyone to use.

      There’s no official list of works in the public domain, so it will be your responsibility to verify that a work is in the public domain if you want to use it. Keep in mind that rules for public domain may differ by country.

      • For more guidance on public domain, see the Copyright Information Center from Cornell University.
      • Certain works created by U.S. federal government agencies are in the public domain immediately upon publication.

      Creative Commons

      Creative Commons licenses provide a standard way for content creators to grant someone else permission to use their work. This allows anyone to remix, transform, and build upon the material in these videos for free.

      YouTube allows users to mark their videos with a Creative Commons CC BY license. If you've marked your video with a CC BY license, you retain your copyright and other users get to reuse your work subject to the terms of the license.

      Learn more about creative commons here.

      Head’s up: Be aware that some users may mark their videos as Creative Commons even if they don’t have all necessary rights. It’s up to you to determine whether using such a video might infringe on someone’s copyright, so it’s a good idea to check on this first.

      Fair use

      Fair use, on the other hand, allows you to reuse copyright-protected material, under certain circumstances, without getting permission from the copyright owner. We'll cover more in our course on fair use.

    4. Tools to manage music in your videos

      Tools to manage music in your videos:

      Audio Library

      Look for music that’s free for you to download and use on YouTube- great for background music and sound effects! Learn more here.

      Audio swap tool

      You can use this tool to add music to your video from our free Audio Library. If your video contains copyrighted audio that has been claimed by Content ID, you can also use the tool to replace the selected audio portion of your video with a track from our Audio Library.

      Mute Song tool

      If your video has been claimed for a copyright owner’s music, in some cases, you can remove the song and the restrictions that come with it. This can be done by muting the portion of your video where the claimed audio appears, or by muting just the song while keeping the background audio intact, if eligible.

      • Be smart on your phone. Just because you record something doesn’t mean you always own the copyright for what it contains. For example, if you record concert footage, certain rights to the material could be held by the performer, music label, or publisher.
      • Cover your covers. If you perform a cover song, make sure you have permission from the copyright owners (i.e., songwriter or music publisher). You may need additional licenses to reproduce the original sound recording, include the song in a video, or display the lyrics. Learn more about covers here.
    5. Copyright and music

      This video covers frequently asked questions about music and Copyright on YouTube, including receiving copyright strikes for cover songs, what rights you need to use a song in a video, and other options for using music in your videos.
    6. Check your knowledge

      What do you know about copyright permissions?