Understanding YouTube’s Copyright Laws

For the most part, YouTube is easy to use. You create a video, upload it, and then promote it. That’s simple, right?

While it’s simple on the outside, things get a little more complicated when you pop the hood and look inside. That’s where you will find YouTube’s confusing copyright laws. These laws can be hard to understand, which is a shame, since your account can get shut down if you break them. Fortunately, once you understand the laws, it is easy to follow them precisely. Then, you won’t have to worry about anyone shutting down your account.

Copyright vs. Fair Use

The confusion comes down to copyright vs. fair use. Copyright refers to audio/visual, sound recording, written words, visual works, and more that have a copyright protection. The protection prevents others from legally using the works…for the most part.

In some cases, you can reuse copyright-protected material under the fair use doctrine. You need to analyze the way that you are going to use the copyrighted work in order to determine if you are protected under the doctrine.

Is it Fair Use?

If you use copyrighted material for educational purposes, you can usually claim fair use. For instance, if you are reviewing a copyrighted work, you should be able to use some of the material in a YouTube video without a problem.

You can also provide play-throughs of video games and product demonstrations under the fair use doctrine. If you go to YouTube, you will see that the site is full of these types of videos.

For example, here’s most-subscribed YouTuber PewDiePie playing Until Dawn:


In addition, the transformative use of a character is more likely to be considered fair use than simply copying the character exactly. If you need to add a character into your video, add a new dimension to it. That will help you claim fair use.

You will also be judged on the amount of the copyrighted work that you use. If your entire video is full of a copyrighted work, you will have a much harder time claiming fair use than you would if you only used a few seconds. Consider cutting back the amount so you don’t have to worry about copyright infringement.

Finally, you can only claim fair use if you don’t impede the copyright owner’s ability to sell his own work. Your work cannot be a substitute for the original work or it will be pulled for a copyright violation.

Other Considerations

It’s also important to understand that you are more likely to benefit from the fair use doctrine if you use copyrighted material in a noncommercial way. While it is possible to claim fair use for commercial uses, your claim is less likely to be approved. You will be held to a much higher standard if you use it for commercial use.

Also, even if you are using copyrighted material under the fair use doctrine, it is still a good idea to credit the original work. For example, if you use Mickey Mouse, you need to credit Walt Disney Studios.

Fighting a Copyright Claim

If you think your video falls under the fair use doctrine, you can fight back on a copyright infringement claim. You will need to file a counter notification with YouTube to get your video reinstated. Only file this claim if you think YouTube made a mistake. If you know that your video does not fall under fair use, do not file a claim.

Start by going to your Creator Studio and clicking on your Copyright Notices.


Then, you can use the web form to file a counterclaim for your notice. This is a fast and easy process. Once you submit it, YouTube will review your claim and get back to you. The process typically takes about ten days so be patient while you wait for YouTube to respond.

You also have the option of sending your counter notification via mail, fax, or email. If you go this route, you need to include your contact information, URL, and specific statements that are required by YouTube.


Include your signature and submit the form. Then, wait to hear back from YouTube.

Now that you have a better understanding of YouTube’s copyright policy, there will be less ambiguity for you as a creator to play by their rules. It will also be easier for you to use the fair use doctrine to your advantage. This is a great way to include some famous works and characters in your videos without getting into any trouble.

Here’s another article from us for you to optimize your video, so you can be sure to continue creating awesome videos and growing on YouTube!

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