Are YouTube Videos Public Domain?

YouTube has a veritable cornucopia of content available on its platform, with the overwhelming majority of it being created by regular YouTube users, not large corporations. This can often lead to the misconception that content on YouTube is “free”, or in the public domain as it is officially termed. The truth is a little messier than that, but we’ll walk you through everything.

So, are YouTube videos public domain? – This can be a grey area and depends on the copyrights given by the video owner and the age of the content itself. But the quick answer is, no. Most public domain content has no owners or the copyright has expired. Most YouTube content is fairly new works and therefore covered by assumed copyright.

Of course, we’re assuming you’re interested in whether a video is in the public domain because you wish to use the video for something. If that is the case, there are other options to consider.

Now, onto the details!

What is Public Domain?

Public domain is the term used for creative works that have no exclusive intellectual property rights. If you were to use material that is in the public domain, nobody could lawfully claim ownership of your content—though it won’t necessarily stop someone from trying.

Creative work can find itself in the public domain for several reasons. The creator of said work can waive intellectual property rights, for example, and release it into the public domain from the beginning.

There are also certain kinds of works that are simply not allowed to be copyrighted, an example of which being the formulae of Newtonian physics. Many works were created before any meaningful copyright law existed, and so were never protected, to begin with. There was no copyright registry when Shakespeare was writing his plays, for example.

Finally, there is a time factor involved in the passing of intellectual property into the public domain, but this is a little tricky to detail.

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Books and Software

For example, any computer software created before 1974 is deemed public domain.

Meanwhile, books typically pass into the public domain a certain amount of years after the author’s death. For America, this term is 95 years; however, it is 70 years for many other countries.

All of this means that for America in 2020, any book published before 1925 is in the public domain. You’re probably starting to see why it’s a little tricky to cover all the bases here.

If you want to learn more about making YouTube videos from books then check out my deep dive blog into what can you and can’t do without getting in trouble.


Moving on to music, there is typically a clear distinction between musical compositions and musical recordings.

Compositions (essentially, the melodies and lyrics) are subject to broadly the same copyright terms as books. This is what led to the infamous case of Warner/Chappell suing people for singing “Happy Birthday to You”. Recordings, on the other hand, can be thought as more akin to property.

If you’ve ever heard of stories like Michael Jackson owning Beatles songs, this is how it was possible. The owner of the recording has the ownership rights of that recording; however, the artist is still free to perform their music, and will typically earn songwriter’s royalties.

But how does this translate to music in the public domain? Well, for the most part, you are free to cover music that is not in the public domain.

You should be aware that anything sounding too close to the original recording will likely get flagged by YouTube’s automatic copyright protection. Still, you won’t actually be doing anything wrong.

Copyrighted recordings, on the other hand, while still subject to an eventual transition to the public domain, have not been around long enough for there to be any public domain recordings. In 2020, the 95-year time limit on copyright extends back to 1925. In 1925, musical recordings were almost entirely classical music, and were still being outsold by sheet music! Some recordings will start going into the public domain in 2021, however.

When it comes to using music in my videos I use LickD. They have a wide range of popular tracks and artists. They have a simple fee system and you pay based on how many views you get on average. There is more information on their website.

Are YouTube Videos Public Domain?


Movies and film, in general, follow the same rules as books, though the terms will vary from country to country.

For America, the term of copyright is once again 95 years, and anything produced before 1925 is automatically considered public domain. That term is rolling, meaning that in 2021, anything created before 1926 will be in the public domain, and so on.

There are several works of film that are in the public domain because the creator has intentionally released their movie that way. Or, in the case of the cult classic, Night of the Living Dead, accidentally released into the public domain as the distributor forgot to file a copyright notice!

Public Domain on YouTube

YouTube does not presently have a means of flagging videos as containing public domain works. As such, there is no clear way to identify public domain content short of going off and researching yourself.

It is important to remember that the descriptions are not always accurate. If someone posts a video claiming it is public domain, and you then use that video and get sued because it is not public domain, the fault will still be with you.

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You may be considering using public domain works in your monetized videos, and you have every right to do that. You could post an unmodified public domain work in its entirety on YouTube, and you would not be breaking their terms and conditions or any copyright law. You should be aware, however, that YouTube does have specific other rules in place that could affect you. For example, they have a policy on re-using content.

This essentially prevents people from just reposting existing work and monetizing the video, even if they are legally allowed to use the work.

One example of this would be a music compilation video made up of songs that are in the public domain. Another example would be uploading a public domain film.

The point of this policy is to prevent YouTube from being flooded with opportunistic attempts to make money for little effort. If a video is in the public domain, there is little other reason to post such a video. If you are modifying the video in a significant way, however, you should be safe from YouTube’s policies.

YouTube’s Standard License

We’ve covered what you can do with public domain works, but what about YouTube’s standard license?

From the uploader’s perspective, YouTube’s standard license grants broadcasting rights to YouTube. Basically, this means that the video is only licensed for watching on YouTube, and cannot be reproduced or redistributed without your express consent.

In agreeing to this license, you are also agreeing to YouTube’s terms regarding uploading videos. Still, the most significant factor is that you have control over your video when it comes to other people re-using it.

You will be entirely within your licensing terms to deny—or grant—permission for any use of your video. This applies equally to small individual YouTubers and multi-million dollar media companies.

If you are not the uploader, and you are considering using another YouTuber’s content, you will need to get permission from the uploader unless it is Creative Commons. We’ll get to that shortly.

Now, the reality of the majority of YouTube videos is that using a small sample of another video will not result in any legal action taken against you. For one thing, a small enough sample would be considered fair use, and not worth arguing over for the creator. But also, most YouTube creators cannot afford the expensive legal fees of attempting to sue someone.

If you use significant portions of another YouTuber’s video—or the whole thing—expect to get your video taken down unless you have the permission of the uploader. For larger corporations, such as record labels and media companies, using even a few seconds of their content can be enough to get a video automatically penalized.

For such companies, you are unlikely to get permission, or even a response if you request it, so it would be best to consider that a non-option.

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Creative Commons

So, we mentioned that public domain and just grabbing content and hoping for the best weren’t your only options for re-using YouTube video. When a YouTube video is uploaded, the uploader can choose between the standard YouTube license and a Creative Commons license.

There are many variations of the Creative Commons license; however, YouTube only offers one of those variations. This is known as a CC BY license, but what is it?

Let’s start with Creative Commons as a whole. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that makes sharing and re-using original works and knowledge easy and free. There is a lot to this organization beyond their licenses, but this article is not about Creative Commons, so we’re going to stick the licensing.

By using a Creative Commons license, you have a properly worded, completely legal document that lays out the licensing terms of a given piece of content.

Using this kind of license makes sharing content easier because there is no ambiguity or uncertainty about whether content can be used. The answer is yes; the only question is what is required of the entity using the material.

For example, CC0 is their base-level license, and, practically speaking, is the same as public domain. There are no requirements of compensation or attribution on CC0 works, and there are no restrictions on how you can use it. Other versions of the license do have limitations on how the work can be used, or requirements in order to use it.

Still, we’re only going to go into detail on the license that YouTube allows you to choose.

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CC BY License

The CC BY License allows for the sharing, copying, and redistribution of the licensed material in any medium or format. You are free to transform, remix, and add to the material for any purpose, including commercial.

Perhaps most significant is the fact that the creator of the material cannot revoke any of the freedoms you have been granted. This only applies as long as you follow the terms of the license, however.

The only requirements under this license are that you must give credit to the creator, link to the complete license, and make it clear if any changes were made (and what they are). It is also essential that you do not make it appear as though the creator endorses your work.

Another facet of Creative Commons licenses is that you may not place any restrictions on CC BY licensed material. One example of this would be taking CC BY content wholesale and putting it behind a paywall.

The situation regarding using CC BY licensed video (or other content) in your YouTube videos is the same as with public domain. You are free to do so, however, merely finding creative commons works and reposting them will fall afoul of YouTube’s re-use policies. That will almost certainly see your videos disqualified from monetization.

If your content is sufficiently transformative, or if you only include the CC BY content as a relatively small part of your video, you should be fine.


Are YouTube videos public domain? Unfortunately not. At least, most of the time they’re not. The critical thing to remember when considering the use of existing YouTube content—as well as any content on the Internet—is that you need explicit consent in some form from the creator. That is if you want to use that content without running into problems further down the line.

As a general rule, assume that any content for which a large corporation owns the copyright is a no go. It will almost certainly get taken down, and some companies are more litigious than others.

And, remember, if you want to monetize your content, you need to add something to it. You can’t just upload an existing public domain or Creative Commons video. Well, you can, but YouTube will flag it under their re-use policy and disqualify it from monetization. Add something of value for your viewers to the content, and you should be good to go.

And, if you see some recent content that you really want to use in a future video; you can always wait 95 years for the copyright to expire!


Is It Legal to Make YouTube Videos from Books?

“The video was taken down due to copyright infringement”. This is a phrase we have heard any number of times about a video that is no longer available on YouTube.

What does it usually mean? Why do videos get taken down? If I read a book on BookTube, will the video get taken down?

Wait, BookTube?

You read that right. BookTube is the unofficial name for YouTube channels that discuss everything bookish.

BookTubers upload videos about their favorite books, favorite authors, characters, reading habits, and anything related to books. Book clubs like Bookmarked have channels that discuss books monthly.

Is It Legal to Make YouTube Videos from Books?

BookTube is now so popular that publishing houses have even taken notice of it and they use it when considering what marketing strategies they will use for their books.

Coming up with something creative takes up a lot of time, energy, and even money. Original work is often like a child to the creator and they naturally feel very protective of it as a lot of work has gone into producing it.

Often, creators don’t mind sharing their work for no pay, as long as they get credit for it. However, many people intend to make money or make a living out of their creations and therefore they protect it as one would protect a house or a car. It is their intellectual property.

This applies to films, songs, and written materials like books. This is where copyright comes in.

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What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a collection of rights automatically owned by a person who originally creates an original work, for instance, a song, movie, book, or even software.

The rights include the right to distribute the work, make copies, reproduce it, derive other works from it, and make money from it. Copyright law exists to encourage creators to produce work by ensuring that their work is protected from theft and that they can make money from it.

It encourages creativity and makes available these creative works to the general public. For a piece of work to be protected by copyright, it has to be:

Creative: It must be innovative.

Original: It must belong to the person. It cannot have been copied from somewhere else.

Fixed: It must be affixed to some medium of expression. It should be available for viewership and should have the ability to be reproduced.

If you came here finding an answer to whether you can make videos from published books, you have come to the right place.

So, Can I Make YouTube Videos from Books?

Published books are copyrighted material, and so you are bound by the very grey areas of law. By the strict black and white wording, blindly reading a book on camera – no. But if you get permission from the owner to make an audio/video version of the work, then – yes!

So really the question should be: to what extent can I use this book in my channel without breaking the YouTube copyright regulations?

Remember that original work is important to the creator and you have to respect their intellectual property rights.

Still it is sometimes possible to use copyrighted material without infringing on the owners’ rights. Before we get into this, we should understand a few concepts about copyright.

Fair Use

Simply put, fair use is a set of exceptions to copyright restrictions. It’s like an open backdoor into a locked room.

These exceptions allow people to use copyrighted material without attracting the ire of copyright police. The fair use lines are, however, blurred, and sometimes it takes a judge to define whether a particular case is a fair use or a violation of copyrights.

To be on the safe side, if possible, get a lawyer to look at your content if you can. Note that the information given here does not constitute legal advice.

Some common guidelines usually given when considering whether something is fair use are:

What You Are Doing With the Content

If you are going to change the content substantially, you may fall into the fair use category. For example, parodies can get away with using copyrighted material, because they change the original content by ridiculing it.

Sometimes parodies even generate more views for the original content. Mashups of songs involve combining different songs in a creative way to make up a relatively new song, so they can also fall under fair use as they significantly change the original versions.

Criticisms or reviews of books or movies can also be fair use provided the critic uses very short clips of what they are reviewing.

The same goes for giving a video or book tutorial with commentaries. However, it all still boils down to creators. They can still complain to YouTube if they feel that their rights have been infringed on. If you aren’t so sure, ask a lawyer.

The Nature of the Content

Non-fictional or factual material is more frequently allowable under fair use than fictional, original material.

How much of the Original Material you are Using

You should use just enough of the material to make your point. Too much would be a violation.

Still, according to YouTube, sometimes even a small amount of the original work can be considered a violation if it constitutes the very core of the work.

For example, if you wrote a work of fiction based on a powerful evil ring that must be destroyed, you would be using the central theme of JRR Tolkien’s entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, even if your story is completely different.

Will it Substitute the Original?

If your work will lead to reduced sales or views of the original material it will definitely be considered as an infringement and will not be protected under fair use.

As mentioned earlier, fair use is complicated. Videos that have complied with fair use can still get reported for infringement and the uploader usually has to defend their work. They have to be really sure of their case.

Some myths about fair use exist and it is important not to get taken in by them in order to avoid an infringement claim.

It’s not Infringement if I Give Credit

Crediting the original creator does not protect you from copyright violation. This cannot be your only claim to your video’s eligibility.

Still, even if your work falls under fair use and is not an infringement, it’s always good to credit the original creator.

It’s Alright if I Use Less Than 30 Seconds of Copyrighted Material

There is no specific amount of duration of content used given for something to fall under fair use. As mentioned earlier, it just has to be reasonable.

It’s Not Fair use if I’m making money out of it

As long as your content falls under fair use, you can still make money out of it.

It’s Fair Use If It’s Only For Entertainment or For Non-Profit

This does not automatically give you fair use status. A court will look at each situation before deciding, always with the interests of the content owner in mind.

If your content reduces the creator’s target audience it won’t matter whether or not you intend to profit from it. Out it will go.

Adding My Original Material to Someone Else’s Copyrighted Work Makes It Fair Use

Adding some original material of your own to someone else’s work does not automatically make it fair use. This is because it still may not substantially change the original, and may in fact make it look worse, hence affecting the creator’s target market or reputation.

I can Decide Fair Use for Myself

Fair use has many grey areas, so it would be risky to push your boundaries as this may get you into trouble with YouTube.

In certain cases, however, when copyright owners demand for videos to be taken down, YouTube protects the content creator under fair use guidelines, for the purposes of encouraging creativity and educating on fair use. This video is an example of such a case.

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So, Can I Use Books on my YouTube Channel?

When YouTube was formed, it was originally meant to be a content sharing platform. For years, users uploaded videos containing both original content and content owned by third parties.

Although this attracted a lot of backlash from creators, it took quite some time for YouTube to develop its copyright policy. In the meantime, many people became famous for videos that contained third party content.

One example is Alex Day, who would post videos of himself reading large chunks of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books and making funny and sometimes derisive comments about them.

A blatant copyright violation.

His videos eventually got taken down once the platform’s copyright policies came into effect. These policies changed how people uploaded content about books as they could no longer read out texts without violating the policy. Even if they credited the authors.

However, some channels have managed to maintain their success. KidTimeStoryTime and Brightly Stories are two such examples.

Their success is due to the fact that they have collaborated with the copyright owners when producing their content. Both channels do read-along of books on their videos but with consent and in collaboration with publishers or authors of the books they feature.

It then becomes a win-win situation.

The channel can make money from the content they use, and the copyright owners benefit through the marketing of their books.

What Happens If I’m Accused of Copyright Infringement?

One of two things can happen if you violate someone’s copyright. These are discussed in the lines to follow.

Content ID Claim

Companies that own copyrights like music and film production companies issue Content ID for all the material they produce. This enables them to quickly identify their content on YouTube. YouTube has a system that scans every video uploaded against an existing database submitted by copyright owners.

If a match is found, YouTube will automatically file a copyright claim for the original content owner. If it was a mistake on your part, you can appeal on those grounds to YouTube. Still, the final verdict will lie with the copyright holder.

If they insist and can prove you have infringed their copyright, you will have to take down the video, or have it taken down by YouTube.

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Some content ID claims will only prevent material from being available in some parts of the YouTube community, or may allow it to remain on the platform but insist on directing any revenue earned by the video to the copyright owner rather than the uploader.

Sometimes the phrase “included copyrighted content” will be displayed with the video to track the video but not actually block it. It also does not negatively affect your YouTube status.

You’ll know of a claim against you in the copyright notice section of your channel’s video manager. In some cases, you get notified via email.

Take-down Notice

This happens when a copyright owner notifies YouTube of a copyright violation with legal consequences. If the complaint satisfies all legal requirements, YouTube takes down the video.

The video will display the phrase “Video taken down: copyright strike”. If you get three copyright strikes, you get a lifetime ban from YouTube. Yikes. Worse, even after that, you would not be able to recover your videos.

Once you get a copyright strike, YouTube requires you to take a short course and do a quiz on copyright regulations to refresh your memory. Something else to note is that a strike doesn’t last forever.

It usually lapses after six months, and once that happens your slate is clean. Still, you don’t want to have a reputation as a copyright violator. Lastly, you can still negotiate with the copyright owner to keep your video up with certain conditions, such as limiting viewership in certain regions.


Always keep in mind that the YouTube algorithm is very good at finding copyright violations, including something as simple as background music.

Although you can licence music much easier with companies like LickD who have a wide library of tracks to use – check out their site.

So even if the original owner doesn’t notice it, YouTube definitely will.

To have good standing in the YouTube community, make sure you avoid getting caught on the wrong side of this law. It’s usually fairly easy to get permission from a content owner to use their content if you ask nicely and can prove that your use of their content will not in any way hinder the distribution of their work.

So go ahead and make those books, but be careful, and remember, when in doubt, ask a lawyer.

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.