Protect your content with copyright
Understanding how copyright protects content will help you manage your content and respect the rights of others on the YouTube platform.
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.
Copyright existed long before the internet, likely originating in the United Kingdom with the Statute of Anne in 1709. 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 simply written on paper.
While copyright registration isn’t required, you may be able to register your copyright to document your ownership. In the United States, copyright registration (with the U.S. Copyright Office) may be necessary before filing an infringement suit. In other jurisdictions, copyright registration may not be available or may provide more limited benefits. (Copyright law is national, so get local advice.)
Did you know?
- In the case of works created by an employee in the course of employment (“works made for hire”), the employer is generally considered the owner of the works.
- In the U.S., you may need to register your copyright 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 other audiovisual works such as 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:
- Sound recordings and musical compositions
- Written works, such as lectures, articles, and books
- Visual works, such as photos, paintings, posters, and ads
- Video games and computer software
- Dramatic works, such as plays and musicals
Ideas, facts, and processes are not copyrightable. If you have an idea for an amazing video, you would need to actually record it (or write it down) to be eligible for copyright. 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.
Did you know?
- Copyright protects architectural works, including a building, model, or drawing.
- Copyright doesn’t protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients.
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. You may want to get legal advice from an expert before uploading videos that are based on the characters, storylines, and other elements of copyright-protected material.
All copyright owners are entitled to the same scope of exclusive rights—from independent musicians and vloggers to large record labels and movie studios. The YouTube ecosystem thrives when everyone recognizes and respects the rights of copyright owners and designated rightsholders.
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.
- Compilations may be subject to copyright if the materials are selected, coordinated, or arranged such that the resulting work as a whole constitutes a new work.
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. It’s also different from patent law, which protects inventions.
Another distinction is privacy. If someone posts a video of you without your consent, you may request removal if you’re uniquely identifiable by image, voice, full name, or other personal information. This is separate from a copyright complaint.
YouTube also has policies to handle other situations, such as harassment and harmful content. See below for procedures to deal with potential policy violations. To find out more, visit our Policy and Safety Hub and review our Community Guidelines.
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
- YouTube may block videos or suspend channels in clear cases of trademark infringement.
- YouTube’s Privacy Guidelines explain our privacy process and how we evaluate privacy claims.
Review additional resources
We’ve covered a lot, but the information presented here isn’t legal advice. You should always consult with your own attorney for your copyright questions and other legal issues.
You should also be aware that copyright protection varies by jurisdiction. For a list of country-specific copyright websites, we suggest you visit the World Intellectual Property Organization directory.