Fair Use on YouTube: How-To Videos


Hey 👋 creator!

Do you like to teach, inform, or educate 👩‍🏫 on YouTube 📺?

Oftentimes, creating instructional or how-to videos requires you to reference other users’ videos, photos, or music 🎵 to adequately instruct your viewers 👥. 

For example, movie 🎞️ directors may want to explain how to direct action scenes like we see in The Avengers. 

Musicians 🎹 may want to teach how to produce beats like Kanye West. 

Photographers 📸 may want to show photographs by Annie Leibovitz, and then explain how to take similar photos. 

These creators want to spread their knowledge and experience with viewers, but unfortunately, sometimes the best way to do that is to use copyrighted material for demonstrations.

Sure, YouTubers could request permission from the art’s original creators, but it can be difficult or even impossible to get permission from the big or famous artists that they often reference.

If you were to write an email 📧 to Kanye West, for instance, requesting permission to use “Gold Digger” in your how-to video, you probably wouldn’t get a response. 

This problem puts YouTube instructors in a difficult position. 

As you probably know, after three copyright strikes, you’re off of YouTube forever. Even worse, if you were to get caught using copyrighted material in your videos, you could be sued for copyright infringement and face penalties of up to $150,000 🤑 per violation.

If using this copyrighted content ever makes you worry 😔 that you’re going to get a copyright strike or worse, get sued, then it’s time to get familiar with the doctrine of fair use.

Fair use is a legal rule that’s embodied in U.S. 🇺🇸 law as well as that of many other countries around the world 🌎. 

Put simply, fair use says that you can legally use the copyrighted content without the original artist’s permission and use it in your own content provided that you transform 🌀 the art and make it your own. 

This transformation can fit into any one of the  five fair use “categories”:

✔️ Critique

✔️ Commentary 💬

✔️ Reaction 

✔️ Education ✏️

✔️ News 🗞️ reporting

For all of you instructional YouTubers out there, I’m going to focus on the educational category for fair use, which is baked into Title 17 U.S. Code § 107 of American law. 

Here are my top five ✋ tips on using fair use law YouTube in your how-to videos in order to avoid copyright strikes and lawsuits 💼:

1. For everyone: short, transformative video clips

Let’s assume you’re creating a how-to YouTube video for flying drones – you may want to refer to another YouTube video on the same subject to supplement your own! 

In this particular example, we’re going to use Jeven Dovey’s video on how to fly a DJI Spark drone.

If you were demonstrating how to launch a drone, you might play Jeven’s footage 📹 for somewhere between two and five seconds ⏱️. Then, you could comment on Jeven’s advice.

In this particular video, Jeven talks about pushing the joysticks 🕹️  in or out to launch his drone. In response, you might explain that you could also launch the drone by swiping right on the screen.

You could also comment on accidents you’ve had when attempting to launch a drone in areas with foliage, trees 🌲, or telephone poles, for example. 

You might discuss the pros and cons of launching a drone from a dirt floor. Is it a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Should you launch it from your hand 👐 instead? 

Think of it this way: When you comment on someone else’s video and include a very short portion of it in your own video, you’re using the other content as a springboard for discussion 🗣️. 

In other words, the copyrighted video helps facilitate information transfer between you and your audience, which transforms the original artist’s work and qualifies you under the educational use category for fair use.

Therefore, if you follow the method of using a short clip between two and five seconds ⌚ and commenting directly on the content, you will avoid copyright strikes.

2. For the musician: quick music clips

Let’s say now that to teach viewers how to produce a rap 🎛️, you play a short portion of a song, comment on it, and pull lessons from it.

For example, you might listen to a song and hear that it’s about 125 beats per minute and that this faster pace is consistent with the rapper’s lyrics about pumping himself up. Therefore, you could explain to your viewers why the faster beat fits the song. 

If the high hat in the song is too loud, you might teach your audience how to turn down the high hat volume 🔈 on a specific music software.

Additionally, you could direct your viewers’ attention to a high-pitched whistle in the background of the song and teach them how to change the pitch 🎚️.

I could go on and on, but overall these observations and comments will teach your audience musicianship 🎼 and music theory. 

This effort to instruct by using other material implicates fair use and will keep you from a copyright strike. 

3. For the photographer: short image displays

Peter McKinnon has a great method of teaching photography 📷 that I highly recommend to my clients.

The method involves first putting an image 🖼️ on the screen for a short while and making comments and critique about the objects or the colors in the photo. 

You could comment on the mood of the photo and then demonstrate to achieve this mood by making#edits 🖌️ in Photoshop or whatever photo processing software you’re using. You could also teach special keystrokes or mouse 🖱️ movements that allow you to edit the photo. 

If you display the copyrighted photo for only a few seconds and then teach from it, you will avoid a copyright strike from YouTube.

4. For gamers: review the license

As you may know, video games come with a lot of different copyrights, whether for the characters 👯, the code, the colors, the music, or the dialogue. Therefore, in order to display a game in your how-to video, you’re either going to have to get permission or depend on fair use.

The legal term for the permission you’ll need to show these games is “licensing”, and all major video games’,  like PUBG, Fortnite, and Minecraft, terms of use contain licensing provisions. 

There are a few different licensing structures for these video games 🎮. For example, one license allows only personal use; with this license, you can play the game but can’t share images from it.

Additionally, there is a “personal with sharing” license that allows you to play the game and share screenshots with your friends 👬. 

Then, there’s a “personal and streaming” license which allows you to stream the video game to your friends or for a YouTube video – that’s probably what you’re looking for.

Video game manufacturers are getting a ton of press because they’re increasingly allowing creators to stream video games on YouTube. These live streams get viewers excited to play and more likely to purchase 💳 the game. 

However, before you start live streaming – even for educational purposes – it’s imperative that you visit the terms and conditions page on the developer’s website to determine which license you have access to.

Maybe you want to do a walk 🚶‍♀️ through on your how-to video, but the licensing may or may not allow for that. 

If the license is unclear or you find you’re limited in what you can stream, I would be weary and not teach that game.

5. For everyone: quote and cite the author 

In this video of Philip DeFranco explaining Article 13, he only displays the actual text 📝 of the article for a few moments.

He comments on Article 13 before and after showing the clip of the text and even talks about it during the clip, all in an effort to educate his viewers.

Whenever you’re displaying or reading from a written text, it’s important that you list the name of the book 📗 or piece of text, the author, the publication date, the publisher, and the source – or as much of this information as you can gather.

Providing this information in addition to keeping any footage or quotes as short as possible is a sure way to avoid any copyright strikes on your channel.