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TIPS & TRICKS YOUTUBE

Can You Use Copyrighted Music on YouTube if You Don’t Monetize?

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;

The Nuance

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.

Can You Use Copyrighted Music on YouTube if You Don't Monetize? 1

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.

Final Thoughts

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”.

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. 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.

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DEEP DIVE ARTICLE HOW TO GET MORE VIEWS ON YOUTUBE TIPS & TRICKS YOUTUBE

How Much of a Song Can You Use on YouTube Without Copyright?

Music is a powerful tool in video editing. It can add emphasis, emotional impact, and generally change the whole tone of a scene or clip. There is a wealth of free music available, of course.

YouTube itself has a significant library of free-to-use music that you can choose from. But there are times when royalty-free music won’t do.

Whether you’re reviewing songs or you just need a particular song for your content, you’ll no doubt be aware of the minefield that is copyrighted music. You may even be aware of fair use, but don’t worry if you’re not; we’re going to get into all of that soon.

Most YouTubers are aware that you can’t just grab copyrighted music (or any content, for that matter) and put it in your video. At least, not without inevitable consequences. At best you will lose your ability to monetize that video, at worst you will get a copyright strike against your channel, and enough of those will lose your channel entirely!

So, how much of a song can you use on YouTube without copyright coming to bite you in the backside? – The short answer is none! You will need a buy a license to use popular tracks or will need to enter into revenue shares with some artists if they are part of the YouTube Audio Library. If you want music in your videos it is best to use royalty free services or make your own music.

The answer more honest answer is, it complicated – so if you’re with us, we’re about to dive a little deeper.

What is “Fair Use”?

As we’re about to get into a subject matter that strays a little close to legal advice, we must stress that is emphatically not legal advice.

Always seek the advice of a qualified law professional before doing anything that might potentially land you in legal trouble. Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into what fair use is.

Fair use is the name given to the use of copyrighted material in some instances where the use is limited or transformative. You may be wondering what “transformative” means, and you wouldn’t be alone. Inordinate amounts of money have been spent trying to find a clear definition of what constitutes transformative but to no avail.

Established examples of a transformative use of copyrighted material include commentary and criticism, such as news programs showing clips of something accompanied by commentary about that thing. Another example is parody videos.

There is a common myth or misunderstanding that you are allowed to use a certain amount of copyrighted content—a few seconds, say—and you will be protected by fair use. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Fair use covers how copyrighted content is used, not the amount of it.

While it is highly unlikely, it is theoretically possible that the use of copyrighted material in its entirety could be protected by fair use. It would be tough to justify, of course, and the less of a piece of copyrighted material you use, the easier it is to claim that you are using it for transformative means, rather than just stealing it.

It is here that the myth of using only a few seconds comes from; most successful examples of fair use on YouTube are short clips, but the shortness is not what makes them a successful example of fair use. We’ll get more into what these successful examples look like shortly.

To avoid falling into dangerous waters I always use licensing companies like LickD – I pay a small fee per track and know I am covered from all the legal potholes. Go check LickD out, they have a wide selection of popular song and chart music on their website and you can even get one track free!

Fair Use is Not Protection

The main trap people fall into when dealing with fair use is in thinking that it is some kind of protection against copyright claims or lawsuits, but this is not the case.

Fair use is a defence, not a protection. There is no one-size-fits-all application of fair use that a company like YouTube could apply to your usage of copyrighted material. As such, fair use is decided on a case-by-case basis…

…in court.

Yes, unfortunately, the only way to prove you are using copyrighted content within the remit of fair use is by going to court and having them agree with you. And, unless you have a lot of spare cash and time on your hands, the only way that is likely to happen is if you get sued by a copyright holder. Not ideal.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that large copyright holders tend to bludgeon smaller entities with copyright take-downs, knowing full well that the average YouTuber will not have the means to challenge the claim on a legal footing. Combine this with increasingly automated copyright infringement detection employed by YouTube, and you have a scenario in which it is very difficult to use copyrighted content in any capacity.

There are even instances of YouTubers creating cover versions of popular songs using household objects—such as couch cushions and doors—getting copyright claims against them by the owner of the song they are covering.

If you are struggling for places to find free to use and completely safe music – I made a deep dive video on all the places you can find music for free online.

How Much of a Song Can You Use on YouTube Without Copyright Issues?

Now that we’ve taken a deeper dive into how fair use works, we hope it makes more sense when we tell you that the answer to how much of a song you can use without copyright problems is, practically speaking, none.

The reason we say this is because the music industry is particularly aggressive when it comes to protecting its intellectual property. They are not interested in the fair use arguments and will go after any use of their music that they become aware of. Couple that with YouTube’s automated copyright infringement detection, and you have a situation where any attempt to use copyrighted music will likely get flagged.

If the infringement exists (that is, the copyright holder attributed does, in fact, own the copyright to the material in your video), then your only recourse would be to take that copyright holder to court.

It would be extremely unlikely to reach a point where the copyright holder would take you to court, however, as YouTube has plenty of mechanisms in place to protect their interests. From monetizing your video and sending them the proceeds, to removing your channel from the platform entirely.

YouTube will not allow you to infringe copyright continually, so it would take an extremely keen legal department at some music label to see you in taken to court before YouTube resolves the issue for them.

Can YouTubers Control Which Ads Are Shown? 1

Examples of Fair Use

Copying works across a variety of different mediums, including broadcast, is permitted when the use is for examination or instruction, in an academic or industry setting, as long as it meets certain guidelines. Obviously, this is unlikely to apply to your average YouTuber.

An example more relevant to YouTube, however, is using copyrighted content for quotation, critique, or review. Of course, if you post an entire album with little to no commentary, you will struggle to make an argument for fair use. The amount of copyrighted content should be quite limited, and only just enough to get whatever point you are trying to make across.

Other criteria for this kind of fair use include the copyrighted material being publicly available and the source of the content being acknowledged

You can also use copyrighted material of reporting current news, though the situations in which copyrighted music would fit into this category are rare.

Parody, as we mentioned earlier, is also a form of fair use, but this is another area where the boundaries for what constitutes parody are far from clear. Any borderline case may need to be tested in court to receive any kind of definitive decision on the matter.

The final example of fair use involves text and data mining, which clearly doesn’t have any bearing on a discussion about using music in YouTube videos.

Soundproofing Tips for YouTubers

Can You Use Music in YouTube Videos at All?

There are certainly situations where you could use music—even copyrighted music—in your YouTube videos. If you were to obtain the permission of the copyright holder, for instance, you would be legally allowed to use that music as long as you stuck to whatever terms you agreed, of course.

As we mentioned earlier, there is also non-copyrighted music or music with an open license such as Creative Commons. YouTube provides an impressive library of such music for the very reason of helping YouTubers make their content without falling afoul of copyright strikes. Remember, they want you to succeed.

Finally, you could, of course, use your own music. If you make music and you have not given the rights to that music to anyone else, you are free to do with it as you please.

How Much of a Song Can You Use on YouTube Without Copyright?

Should I Use Copyrighted Music in my YouTube Videos?

The only truly safe option when considering using music in your YouTube videos is to use royalty-free music that is licensed for commercial use.

The commercial aspect is important even if you do not monetize your videos, because you may decide to monetize them someday, and, in any case, some people may disagree with your idea of commercial. They may even be wrong, but you don’t want to have to go to court to prove that.

If you can get permission for the music you should be okay to use it in theory, however, it is worth noting that YouTube’s copyright infringement detection is something of a firehose when it comes to seeking out violations.

There are many examples in the past of YouTubers going to great lengths to obtain permission to use copyrighted material, only to have YouTube flag it as a violation.

In some case, copyright holders themselves have fallen afoul of this system. It has not been uncommon for YouTubers who are part of a content network upload a video of one of their own songs on a private channel and get flagged for copyright because their song was initially played on the content network’s channel.

It is far from a perfect system.

Can YouTubers Control Which Ads Are Shown? 5

What Happens if I Get Caught Using Copyrighted Music?

The consequences vary depending on things like if you are a repeat offender, or how the copyright holder wants to handle the situation. If you are caught infringing copyright, and it is your first time, you will likely just receive a strike against your account. Enough of these strikes, however, and your account could be removed entirely.

In some cases, the copyright holder will opt to leave your video alone, but monetize it and claim the earnings. In those cases, you will not be able to monetize your video yourself, even if the offending music only makes up a small portion of your video. Unfortunately, this is a risk you will have to accept if you want to use copyrighted music.

As mentioned above, it is unlikely you would ever see a courtroom from infringing copyright on YouTube. But, as mentioned even further above, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. The fact that it is unlikely that you will end up in court should not be seen as a guarantee that you will not end up in court.

How Much of a Song Can You Use on YouTube Without Copyright? 1

Conclusions

The world of YouTube copyright is a bit of a minefield when it comes to knowing exactly what you can and can’t do.

The only way to be genuinely risk-free is only ever to use royalty-free music that is licensed for commercial use. Any time you use copyrighted material, even if it is as clear cut fair use as it gets, could see you receiving copyright strikes against your channel, or worse.

If you do have to use copyrighted music, however, remember the guidelines for what constitutes fair use. Only use the absolute minimum of copyrighted music required to get your point across. Make sure the focus of the video is not the content.

Even with some additional commentary, if the point of the video is very clearly just to listen to the music, it will not be considered fair use.

But, most importantly, remember that fair use is not a protection against legal action. If a copyright holder gets a bee in their bonnet about your use of their music and decides to get the lawyers out, you will not be able to hide behind fair use.

You will need to go to court and convince a judge that your use of the content was fair use. It may not be a likely scenario, but it is one you will have to consider if you insist on using copyrighted music in your videos.

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. 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.