Making money on YouTube with other people’s content is certainly possible, though, as you might expect, there are ethical considerations depending on how you go about it.
If you just re-upload someone else’s content wholesale, without any kind of modification, and pass it off as your own, there is no question that it is wrong in every sense of the word, including YouTube’s rules and guidelines.
So, not only would you be doing something generally unpleasant, but you would also likely fall afoul of YouTube’s policies, and lose any monetary gain you might have had.
That being said, there are ways to make money using other people’s content on YouTube that are entirely within YouTube’s terms, and you can do it in ways that won’t have the YouTubers whose content you are using wishing ill fortune on you.
So let’s dive into how to make money on YouTube using other people’s videos!
There isn’t much more to say about this that we didn’t cover in the intro, but just to reiterate; taking another YouTuber’s content and re-uploading without their permission has very little going for it as a money-making tactic.
It will not make you many friends, you will be competing with the original video for views, and it will almost certainly be a short term thing as YouTube will eventually shut you down when they find out you are stealing content.
It’s best to steer clear of this method entirely.
We’re going to discuss some methods here that, strictly speaking, could be done without permission from the YouTuber whose content you are using, but it’s always worth getting permission if you can, regardless of whether you need it.
If you can somehow get permission for it, even the above method of just taking someone else’s content and re-uploading it would be fine. We can’t think of many situations where the original creator would be okay with that, but it would be perfectly fine if they did.
But, as a general courtesy, it is nice to ask YouTuber’s if you can use their content, even if it’s only a small clip. And, who knows? They may even share your video.
Getting the permissions itself can be tricky, especially if the YouTuber doesn’t check their spam folder too often.
You should be able to find a contact email address for them in their channel’s “About” page (you may have to prove you’re not a bot in order to see it), though the existence of an email address doesn’t mean anyone is looking at the inbox.
You can also try pinging them on social media. What you want to avoid, however, is spamming them with a barrage of messages across different platforms.
Try to leave a little bit of breathing space between attempts to contact them, as waking up to dozens of notifications in different apps all from the same person may be a bit off-putting.
In your messages, be polite, and it can’t hurt to throw in a compliment about their content. After all; you are wanting to use it. Y
ou should also let them know what you are planning to do with the content you are seeking permission to use, and be honest. Nothing can burn bridges like getting permission to use someone’s content for one thing and then using it for something else, especially if the thing you end up using it for is something the original creator would object to.
As this post is talking about making money specifically, we need to address YouTube’s stance on reused content.
There is a lot of content on YouTube (and other parts of the web) that are fair game for you to use on your channel from a legal standpoint. Creative Commons content and content in the public domain being the main examples of this.
However, being legally allowed to use content does not mean YouTube will let you monetise it. Their monetisation policies specifically call out “reused content” as something that cannot be monetised.
What this means in practical terms is that even though you are allowed—both legally and under YouTube’s terms—to take a video that is licensed under Creative Commons (as long as you give full attribution) and post it on your channel in full, YouTube will not allow you to monetise it unless you have made sufficient modification to it. How these modifications might look is a significant part of the rest of this post, so keep reading.
What About Fair Use?
Fair use is a convention through which copyrighted material can be used without the express permission of the copyright holder or a licensing agreement to use the content in some circumstances.
The content you produce must be “transformative”, which can include commentary and parody, as well as some other kinds of content.
Fair use is often misunderstood to be some kind of shield to protect you against copyright strikes, but that is not how it works. Fair use is a defence—not a black and white policy—and it is determined on a case-by-case basis. That means that, even if you were entirely within the spirit of fair use, you would still have to go to court and make your case if you faced a copyright owner who is aggressive enough with their legal team to take it that far.
One of the problems with fair use on YouTube is their automated content recognition system, which has no concept of fair use and will flag your videos regardless if it recognises copyrighted material.
As sad a state of affairs as it may seem, it would generally make your life much easier if you steered clear of copyrighted content altogether.
How to Make Money on YouTube Using Other People’s Videos
Now that we’ve told you what you can’t do, let’s get into what you can do.
Here we are going to outline some different ways you can make money on YouTube using other people’s videos, as well as how you would go about it and any other relevant information.
Reaction videos are more popular than ever and are not limited to movie trailers. Just about any viral video can be good fodder for a reaction video, though it can help to stick within a particular genre or type of video.
For example, Stevie Knight is a popular reaction YouTuber who reacts to rap songs specifically. For the super famous YouTubers, reaction videos can be about anything because the audience is there to see them, whatever they are doing. But for us mere mortals, it’s probably best to find a niche and stick to it.
One of the critical aspects of reaction videos, as obvious as it sounds, is reacting. If you sit and watch a nine-minute video, pulling the occasional face and barely saying anything, you’re not going to make much of an impression.
And you may fall afoul of YouTube’s reuse policy, as they could deem it not to be sufficiently different from the original video.
Needless to say, this type of video is more suited to YouTubers with a lot of personality.
You are banking on people wanting to see you. They can go and watch the original video easily enough, or check out one of the other reaction YouTubers covering this video, and if you are bland and unentertaining, they may do just that.
Be yourself, as well.
Being a reaction, YouTuber will quickly fall apart if you are putting on a persona. Try not to worry about pleasing everyone; it’s an impossible task.
Just be yourself and be consistent with your videos.
Breakdown videos are very similar to reaction videos but a little more technical in nature.
Where a reaction video is all about the… well… reaction, breakdown videos go into detail about the content itself. In fact, the YouTuber we mentioned above, Stevie Knight, would be a good example for this kind of video as well, as he doesn’t just react to rap music, he breaks down the lyrics.
Breakdown videos are also common for political and social commentary, as well as movie trailers and speeches. The aim of a breakdown is either to respond to things in the video or to give your unique insight to the viewers.
If you decide to go down this path, you make sure you have something to offer.
Unlike reaction videos, where a lively personality and a bit of comedy can be enough, a breakdown video needs to add something to the conversation. If you are breaking down the latest Marvel movie trailer, make sure you are well-versed in Marvel lore, so that you can spot things that regular viewers may miss.
Clip videos can be on a range of topics, such as “Top 10” videos, or “This Week In…”. An example of this can be found on GameDevHQ’s channel, where they have a weekly series that lists off some of the most interesting projects being developed in the Unity game engine.
This kind of video is very appealing to those more camera-shy YouTubers out there, as it doesn’t require you to be on-camera to make content. It would typically take the form of a series of clips with voice-over narration saying something about each clip.
In these cases, as long as the clips are not too long, you can usually claim fair use with regards to your use of the clip, however, as we stated above, fair use, even when used correctly, is no guarantee that you will be free to use the content.
It would be best to get permission from the content owners first, but if you keep the clips short, you should be okay.
Become a Music Content Aggregator/Promoter
This one is a little less conventional, but you could become a channel for promoting unknown musicians.
The idea here would be that you are putting the music videos out on a channel that has more exposure—benefitting the artist—while you run advertisements on those videos.
Whether or not you cut the artists in on the revenue would be up to you, although it will undoubtedly be easier to get artists on board if you are going to pay them.
The main problem with this kind of channel is that it is challenging to get off of the ground, as you need a significant number of subscribers to draw in more popular artists.
One trick could be to use Creative Commons music in the beginning. You would not be able to monetise these videos due to YouTube’s reuse policy, but you wouldn’t be able to monetise in the beginning anyway due to the requirements for joining YouTube’s Partner Programme.
The goal would be to build the channel’s reputation and following up to the point that you can entice up and coming artists to release music through your channel, and hopefully reach a point where all of the content you publish is original.
You can even use cover songs to get your foot in the door and leverage attention. If you need help in making money from cover songs then check out my deep dive blog where I break down the legal points, the fast traffic tips and some great tweaks you can use to get the maximum impact for minimal impact on your pocket.
This one requires quite a bit of ability with audio editing software, but you could make mashups of existing music videos.
These tend to be popular when the original videos are from contrasting genres, making the final result something of a novelty that will interest fans of both genres.
One of the most well-known examples of this kind of video is an interesting mashup between Justin Beiber and Slipknot. The less similar to the original songs, the better, or you may get hit with YouTube’s Content ID.
It should be noted that there are legal obligations when using copyrighted music, even if it is only small samples.
You probably won’t end up in a courtroom if you get caught—it is far more likely you’ll get a copyright strike or your ad revenue diverted to the copyright holder—but the possibility is always there when you break copyright law.
What we’re saying here is, strictly speaking, you should get the proper licensing sorted with any copyright holders before creating mashups video. This blog does not endorse doing anything that breaks the law.
You could always license a song from a music supplier such as LickD where you can make cover-songs or mashups and not have to worry about revenue share or copyright clam for the audio. They have a wide selection of popular tracks and you even get your first track for free when you sign up.
You may have noticed that there is still quite a bit of work involved in these various methods.
Unfortunately, there is no way of making money on YouTube with other people’s videos that is simultaneously allowed by YouTube, legal, and does not require some effort on your part.
However you could always try stock video content (for example I use storyblocks for all my b-roll) to pad out your creations and all you have to do is talk over the clips – you wouldn’t even need to show your face.
If that sounds perfect I have 12 Channel Ideas Without Showing Your Face just for you!