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Can I Use YouTube Videos for Commercial Purposes?

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Can I Use YouTube Videos for Commercial Purposes?

When it comes to using services for commercial reasons—especially free services—there is often a lot of murky language and grey areas to wrap your head around. We’d like to be able to say that YouTube is different, but unfortunately, the waters here are just as muddy as everywhere else.

Let’s start with the simplest answer we can give. Yes, you can use YouTube videos for commercial purposes… sometimes. If you own the content and it conforms to YouTube’s community guidelines, there is nothing to stop you from uploading videos for commercial purposes. However, there is more than one way to use YouTube for commercial purposes, and that’s where things get less clear.

As with many things like copyright and licensing, there is a lot of this topic that falls under the umbrella of “technically no, practically yes”. That is, technically no you’re not allowed to do it, but practically you should be fine.

Don’t worry, we’ll walk through this in more detail, but before we do, please remember that this is a YouTube blog, not a legal one. Nothing here should be taken as legal advice, and you are ultimately responsible for your own decisions.

Uploading Videos for Commercial Purposes

The most straightforward use of YouTube videos for commercial purposes is the uploading of your own content that you have full rights to, and that is in full compliance with YouTube’s terms and guidelines. Examples of this might be uploading a promotional video for an online course, a showreel for your acting portfolio, or a walk-around video of a car you are selling.

In each of these cases, the video is technically being used for commercial purposes, however, it should be noted that complying with YouTube’s terms doesn’t just mean things like not having nudity or hateful language, it also means accepting YouTube’s presentation. Your video will almost certainly be shown alongside ads, and those ads might not always be to your tastes. This can be a real problem when dealing with branding, but that is the agreement you enter when you upload content to YouTube.

Embedding Videos for Commercial Purposes

Embedding videos is where things get a little more complicated, since YouTube’s own terms of service state that you cannot;

“use the Service to distribute unsolicited promotional or commercial content or other unwanted or mass solicitations (spam)”

The problem with this is that YouTube makes no real attempt to draw a line between spam and legitimate distribution, and the use of the word “unsolicited” is very vague. For example, if you embed a YouTube video on your blog, nobody could reasonably call it unsolicited, since people are coming to your blog to read your content, so the solicitation is implied.

But what about a forum post, or a Facebook comment?

The reality is that the vast majority of situations in which you would embed a YouTube video for commercial use will not get you in trouble with YouTube, but it is important to remember that vague language in the terms and conditions, particularly if your YouTube channel is a critical component in your income.

Playing YouTube Videos for Commercial Purposes

YouTube’s terms also state that the service is only for personal, non-commercial use, which rules out things like publicly screening videos. Publicly screening videos could include anything from showing a YouTube video at a speaking engagement to playing one at a party with paid entry.

There is no obvious legitimate path through YouTube’s terms to allow this use of YouTube content, however, there is a way around it. If you own the content, or if you can get permission from the owner of the content, you can cut out the middle man. As long as YouTube are not the rights holders of the content in question, their only issue would be you using YouTube to play the content, but if you’re not using their service, it’s nothing to do with them. That being said, it is against YouTube’s terms to download videos through unofficial means, so you could still be in breach of YouTube’s terms with this method. It is unclear how YouTube could ever effectively enforce this particular term, however.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you would be completely off the hook. If you used someone else’s content without their permission, they could still take issue with it, but that is the case for any use of content that you don’t own the rights to.

Additional Factors

It should also be noted that YouTube does not allow the use of any content on their site that is not a user submission. Again, we straddle the uncomfortable line between technically true and practically false here. Technically it would be against YouTube’s terms of service to include a screenshot of the YouTube website in a video that you are using commercially. Practically speaking, unless you are playing your commercial video during halftime at the Super Bowl, it’s unlikely anything will come of it.

User submissions—that is, videos uploaded by YouTubers—are covered by the usual terms and licenses, but everything else—such as artwork—is completely off-limits. That means not even for non-commercial use.

Can I Use YouTube Videos for Commercial Purposes? 1

Summing Up

As with many things like copyright and licensing, there is a lot of this topic that falls under the umbrella of “technically no, practically yes”. That is, technically no you’re not allowed to do it, but practically you should be fine.

That being said, you are taking a risk if you go against that “technically”, no matter how unlikely it is. If you decide to do something that breaks the YouTube terms of service, you should be prepared for the possibility that you may be found out, and that YouTube may take action against you.

The only way to be completely safe when using YouTube videos for commercial purposes is to ensure you are the rights holder of the content in question, and that any screenings of the content that are not for personal use should use your own copy of media, not the YouTube platform. Remember, YouTube does not own your content once it is uploaded.

It’s also worth remembering that content you upload can be similarly used by other people. For example, an informative video about how to use your latest product could be hijacked by a competing firm.

It always pays to think through all of the implications.

Top 5 Tools To Get You Started on YouTube

Very quickly before you go here are 5 amazing tools I have used every day to grow my YouTube channel from 0 to 30K subscribers in the last 12 months that I could not live without.

1. VidIQ helps boost my views and get found in search

I almost exclusively switched to VidIQ from a rival in 2020.

Within 12 months I tripled the size of my channel and very quickly learnt the power of thumbnails, click through rate and proper search optimization. Best of all, they are FREE!

2. Adobe Creative Suite helps me craft amazing looking thumbnails and eye-catching videos

I have been making youtube videos on and off since 2013.

When I first started I threw things together in Window Movie Maker, cringed at how it looked but thought “that’s the best I can do so it’ll have to do”.

Big mistake!

I soon realized the move time you put into your editing and the more engaging your thumbnails are the more views you will get and the more people will trust you enough to subscribe.

That is why I took the plunge and invested in my editing and design process with Adobe Creative Suite. They offer a WIDE range of tools to help make amazing videos, simple to use tools for overlays, graphics, one click tools to fix your audio and the very powerful Photoshop graphics program to make eye-catching thumbnails.

Best of all you can get a free trial for 30 days on their website, a discount if you are a student and if you are a regular human being it starts from as little as £9 per month if you want to commit to a plan.

3. Rev.com helps people read my videos

You can’t always listen to a video.

Maybe you’re on a bus, a train or sat in a living room with a 5 year old singing baby shark on loop… for HOURS. Or, you are trying to make as little noise as possible while your new born is FINALLY sleeping.

This is where Rev can help you or your audience consume your content on the go, in silence or in a language not native to the video.

Rev.com can help you translate your videos, transcribe your videos, add subtitles and even convert those subtitles into other languages – all from just $1.50 per minute.

A GREAT way to find an audience and keep them hooked no matter where they are watching your content.

4. PlaceIT can help you STAND OUT on YouTube

I SUCK at making anything flashy or arty.

I have every intention in the world to make something that looks cool but im about as artistic as a dropped ice-cream cone on the web windy day.

That is why I could not live on YouTube without someone like PlaceIT. They offer custom YouTube Banners, Avatars, YouTube Video Intros and YouTube End Screen Templates that are easy to edit with simple click, upload wizard to help you make amazing professional graphics in minutes.

Best of all, some of their templates are FREE! or you can pay a small fee if you want to go for their slightly more premium designs (pst – I always used the free ones).

5. StoryBlocks helps me add amazing video b-roll cutaways

I mainly make tutorials and talking head videos.

And in this modern world this can be a little boring if you don’t see something funky every once in a while.

I try with overlays, jump cuts and being funny but my secret weapon is b-roll overlay content.

I can talk about skydiving, food, money, kids, cats – ANYTHING I WANT – with a quick search on the StoryBlocks website I can find a great looking clip to overlay on my videos, keeping them entertained and watching for longer.

They have a wide library of videos, graphics, images and even a video maker tool and it wont break the bank with plans starting from as little as £8.25 ($9) per month.

By Alan Spicer - YouTube Certified Expert

UK Based - YouTube Certified Expert Alan Spicer is a YouTube and Social Media consultant with over 15 years of knowledge within web design, community building, content creation and YouTube channel building.

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