Learn about copyright fundamentals
Understanding copyright protection will help you manage your content and respect the rights of others on YouTube.
Know how copyright helps you
Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship for a set period of time. If you’re the copyright owner, this protection grants you exclusive rights to control how your work is used and who can make money from it, including who can share it on YouTube.
As the digital media landscape expands, it’s critical to understand copyright law and how it applies to your content. Copyright protection begins when your original work is fixed in a tangible medium, such as recorded in audio or video, stored on a computer, or written on paper.
Although copyright registration isn’t required, in many countries, you may register your copyright to document your ownership. Copyright law is national, so get local advice.
Note: We’ll cover some key concepts in this course, but the information presented here isn’t legal advice. You should consider consulting with your own attorney for your copyright questions and other legal issues.
Did you know?
- In the case of works created by an employee in the course of employment, 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 an infringement suit.
Confirm what copyright protects
Since YouTube launched in May 2005, we’ve enabled billions of people to discover and watch original videos. Just like movies and TV shows, online videos can be protected by copyright. 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.
Copyright also protects other types of work including music, books, art, and video games. Ideas, facts, and processes are not copyrightable. You also can’t copyright a name, title, or short phrase (with certain exceptions), although these things may be subject to other legal protections.
For example, when someone records an original video of her “grumpy cat” lying on her bed, she would be the copyright owner of the video, and she could control how it’s shared. The name “grumpy cat” isn’t subject to copyright, although it could be registered as a trademark in order to sell plush toys and other merchandise with this distinctive name.
Recognize these exclusive rights
Copyright law grants the owner several exclusive rights for a defined period of time. This means the owner is the only party who can exercise or grant the rights to reproduction, distribution, public performance, public display, and creation of derivative works.
Common derivative works include translations, musical arrangements, film versions of literary material, art reproductions, and abridgments of preexisting works. Unless you have permission for creating a derivative work, you need to be careful to avoid unauthorized adaptations.
All copyright owners are entitled to certain the same scope of exclusive rights—from independent musicians to large record labels.
Did you know?
- Copyright law stipulates certain limitations on exclusive rights, such as fair use or fair dealing. These exceptions vary on a national level.
Differentiate 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.
Harassment and Cyberbullying
“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 or dangerous activity.” Trademark complaint Privacy complaint Reporting tool Flagging tool