Using copyrighted material on YouTube has always been a contentious area. Whether it’s big faceless corporations stifling small creators who are clearly within the realm of fair use, or YouTubers blatantly stealing other YouTubers content, there are plenty of examples of things turning sour.
The question of whether you can use copyrighted music in your videos is a common one for inexperienced YouTubers, and, generally speaking, the answer is no. But what about if you aren’t monetising those videos? In this video, we’re going to address that very question.
The Blunt Reality
There is some nuance to be discussed with this type of situation—and we will get to that nuance—but it should be noted first that there is an absolute to deal here.
From a purely legal and technical point of view, there is no situation where you can use copyrighted music in your videos without permission, with the complicated exception of fair use. Copyright protection is not limited to situations where the copyright infringer is making money from their use of the copyrighted media.
Loosely put, any time someone infringes on copyrighted music, there is potential for someone who might have bought a song or listened to it on a streaming service who will no longer do so because they heard it on your YouTube video. So, while you, the copyright infringer, might not be making any money from your use of the media, you could theoretically still be costing the copyright holder’s money.
So, the golden rule here is that any time you want to use copyrighted music, assume you need permission from the copyright holder. No exceptions. If you’d like a bit more information on fair use, here’s a handy video;
Okay, so that was the blunt reality of using copyrighted music. Now for the more nuanced YouTube reality.
Firstly, you are extremely unlikely to face any legal repercussions for copyright infringement on YouTube. That being said, there is nothing to stop a copyright holder from pursuing in the courts for damages. If you infringe copyright, you are taking this risk.
In practice, copyright holders are content to let YouTube’s built-in copyright protection methods do the heavy lifting. So, while you might not get sued by Warner Bros. for using music they hold the copyright for, you will still face repercussions from YouTube.
Strikes and Suspensions
In the olden days of YouTube, a successful copyright claim against your videos would see you get a copyright strike, with three strikes leading to a suspension/banning. The strikes system is still in place, but it is less relevant than it used to be, as we’ll talk about in a moment.
Banning is the most severe repercussion YouTube will bring down upon you. If you are a successful YouTuber who is perhaps making quite a bit of money on the platform, this is a pretty severe repercussion. If you are a small YouTuber—perhaps one who hasn’t even met the threshold for the YouTube Partner Programme—then the prospect of being banned might not seem so severe, but just bear in mind that the ban would be permanent, and YouTube would enforce it on any future accounts they identify as being you.
Content ID and Copyright Claims
The reason the strikes system is less relevant these days is that YouTube have implemented a system whereby copyright holders can “claim” copyrighted content, as well the Content ID system for automatically detecting claimed content.
In cases where copyrighted music is detected—and not successfully counter-claimed—the copyright holder has a few options.
- Mute the audio of your video
- Block your video
- Monetize your video
- Track your video
The first two are pretty self-explanatory. Monetising your video is exactly what it sounds like, with the twist being that the money generated goes to the copyright holder, not you. Whether or not you have opted to monetize that video—or whether you are even eligible to monetize it—is not a factor here. The final option allows the copyright holder to track the viewing statistics of your video, giving them all the data about how many people have watched, where they are from, and everything else you can see about your viewing demographics.
If your content gets such a copyright claim—and it is legitimate—you have a few options. You can swap out the music, dispute the claim, or go with the flow and accept the copyright holder’s chosen action.
In this sense, you could use copyrighted music in your videos if you are not concerned about receiving revenue from them. However, it is worth noting that there is no way of knowing what the copyright holder’s preferred action is, other than finding out who the copyright holder is and looking it up.
For music that is flagged in the Content ID system, you can test the situation by uploading a private video with the music you intend to use. It doesn’t need to be a real video, just a blank screen with the music playing will do. You will be notified as soon as the video has finished processing, and your options will be presented to you.
Copyright issues on YouTube are far from straightforward. That is, unless you take the “you can’t use copyrighted music without permission, end of discussion” line of thinking, but, for the most part, you should be safe to experiment without fear of any serious consequences.
Content ID claims do not negatively affect your channel, and YouTube gives you the opportunity to resolve the copyright issues before the video ever goes public, reducing the possibility of real legal consequences significantly.
So, can you use copyrighted music on YouTube if you don’t monetize? The answer is yes… in some cases. It’s also the case that the “don’t monetize” part is non-optional, since you won’t be able to monetize your videos if they have copyrighted music in them.
But whether or not you tried to monetize the video is entirely irrelevant to whether you are allowed to use the copyrighted music.
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”.
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. Learn new skills for FREE with Skillshare
I SUCK reading books to learn, but I LOVE online video courses.
Every month I learn something new. Editing, writing, video skills, how to cook, how to run a business – even how to meditate to calm a busy mind.
I find all of these for FREE with Skillshare – Sign up, pick all the courses you want and cancel anytime you need.
5. Shutterstock 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 Shutterstock 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.