Navigate copyright

Recognize what is copyright protected and how copyright law applies to YouTube.

  • Estimated time to complete: 20 Min
  • Level: “I'm new to copyright”
  • Date: November 5, 2019
  1. What does copyright protect?

    Ideas, facts, and processes are not subject to copyright. Names and titles, for example, are not, by themselves, subject to copyright.

    Head’s up:

    • When someone writes a song they create a musical composition, which is a copyrighted work. When somebody records themselves performing that composition they create a sound recording, which is another copyrighted work.
    • Including the sound recording in your video requires permission from both copyright holders. Creating a new performance of the composition requires permission from the copyright holder of the composition.
  2. How is copyright law applied to YouTube?

    All copyright owners are entitled to the same scope of exclusive rights—from independent musicians and vloggers to large record labels and movie studios.

    • A copyright owner is typically the only party who can exercise or grant the rights to reproduction, distribution, public performance, public display, and creation of derivative works, like fanfiction, sequels, translations, spin-offs and adaptations.
    • Head’s up: You’ll probably want to get legal advice from a lawyer before uploading videos that are based on the characters, storylines, and other elements of copyright-protected material.

    Bottom line: You need a copyright owner’s permission to create new works based on their original content. We’ll cover more in our courses on permissions and exceptions, like fair use, creative commons and public domain.

    Can YouTube determine copyright ownership?

    No. YouTube isn’t able to mediate rights ownership and Content ID disputes. Copyright is determined by law and not by YouTube.

    • When we receive a complete and valid takedown notice, we remove the content as the law requires.
    • When we receive a valid counter notification, we forward it to the person who requested the removal. After this, it’s up to the parties involved to resolve the issue in court. If there is no evidence of a lawsuit, videos are reinstated, usually after 10 business days.
  3. What is copyright?

    Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of creative expression.

    • If you’re the copyright owner, this protection usually grants you exclusive rights to control how your work is used and who can make money from it. This also includes who can share it on YouTube.
    • Original videos, including those on YouTube, are subject to copyright protection the moment they’re created, not based upon who is the first to register or upload them. Specifics of copyright law can vary depending on the country you’re in, so you may want to get local advice.
    • Head’s up: We’ll cover some key concepts in this course, but the information presented here isn’t legal advice. You should consider consulting with an attorney for your copyright questions and other legal issues.


    Did you know?

    • In the case of works created by an employee within the scope of employment, sometimes referred to as a 'work for hire', the employer is generally considered the owner.
    • In the U.S., you may need to register your copyright (with the U.S. Copyright Office) before filing a copyright infringement lawsuit.
  4. Check your knowledge

    What do you know about copyright law?
  5. Common areas of confusion

    Just because you or your brand appear in a video, doesn’t mean you own copyright over that work.

    Other legal protections

    Copyright is just one form of intellectual property. It's not the same as trademark, which protects brand names, mottos, logos, and other source identifiers.

    YouTube also has policies to handle other situations, such as privacy violations, harassment, and harmful content. See below for procedures. To find out more, review our Community Guidelines and Reporting & Enforcement tools.

    Other legal protections and reporting tools

    Trademark Privacy Harassment & Cyberbullying Harmful Content
    “A video improperly uses our brand name or distinctive mark.” “I appear in this video without my consent.” “Someone is maliciously attacking me online.” “I found a video that incites violence/dangerous activity.”
    Trademark complaint Privacy complaint Reporting tool Flagging tool