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How to Follow YouTube Fair Use Law: 10 Tips for YouTubers


YouTube Fair Use Law

At first glance, it may seem impossible to abide by all of the rules and guidelines associated with YouTube and fair use law.

The nuances and legal requirements for using copyrighted material are extensive, and the risk of multiple copyright flags on your channel is a huge one to take.

Luckily, breaking down the doctrine of fair use into individual tips and tricks can make it much easier to tackle.

If you’re interested in learning more about YouTube fair use law and avoiding copyright strikes, check out my top ten fair use tips for YouTubers below:

  1. Use YouTube’s Audio 🔈 Library

If you want to use music in your videos without breaking copyright law, YouTube’s Audio Library is a great option 

In case you’ve never heard of it, the YouTube Audio Library provides FREE access to thousands of royalty-free songs and sound effects for YouTube creators.

Additionally, the Audio Library is great because the content is specifically licensed for use on YouTube! As a result, any YouTubers looking to use the music on another social media platform or website must contact the original artist for permission.

That being said, be sure to check out all of YouTube’s rules for their audio library, as they breakdown guidelines for crediting the original artist, remixing, and more.

  1. Get comfortable with Creative Commons

Another great way to follow YouTube fair use law and use music in your videos is with Creative Commons licensed songs. 

Creative Commons music is copyrighted by the original artist in a manner that grants you certain rights to their songs. In fact, most artists grant licenses for entire songs as long as the user attributes them in the video description

YouTubers can find Creative Commons licensed music by searching 🔎 for an artist or song on YouTube and filtering that search with “Creative Commons”. 

However, always use caution when searching for Creative Commons licenses, as some creators will falsely claim to own these rights. Therefore, whenever you find a song from Creative Commons, be sure to Google the creator’s name and the name of the song to ensure the content is actually fair use.

  1. Use royalty free content

Whether you’re looking to use copyrighted music, photos, or videos on your channel, consider finding them from a royalty-free source.

Royalty-free content is material that the original artist has licensed you to use. While some royalty-free websites, such as Artlist, require subscriptions, others provide the option to pay 💸 per use. 

Plus, you may be able to find some totally free content on websites such as Pexels, a royalty-free stock photo 📸 site.

As always, be sure to read the terms of use associated with each site and every piece of content you download to ensure the material you’re using abides by YouTube fair use law.

  1. Mash it up!

DJs and other musically-gifted artists should take advantage of their mixing and production 🎚️ skills to transform content and abide by the doctrine of fair use. 

Whether you’re interested in remixes or mashups, you can easily find short music clips to use in your creations on Creative Commons or another royalty free website.

Ultimately, as long as you have permission to use the music clips in a remix, and you transform it into something totally different from its original intention, you shouldn’t have a problem with YouTube fair use law 💁‍♂️. 

  1. Focus on YOUR reactions

Some of the most famous channels on YouTube started with reaction videos. However, these types of videos almost always depend on the use of copyrighted material to incite some sort of reaction from the YouTubers. 

Luckily, reacting to a piece of content is a type of fair use! 

In order to abide by the doctrine of fair use in your reaction videos, make sure the viewers are directed to focus on your reaction. In other words, don’t let the footage play for too long or keep your reaction off the screen for an extended period of time.

Overall, make sure you and your reaction are the focus of your video by keeping a thumbnail video of yourself – at the very least – at the bottom of the screen. Anyway, YOU’RE the star!

  1. Comment, critique, and comment some more

Much like reaction videos, whenever you’re instructing viewers on completing a task or creating a piece of art, you may want to use copyrighted material to demonstrate the final product.

For example, if you were to make a DIY how-to video for sewing a blanket, it can be helpful to use another video to demonstrate different methods or what NOT ❌ to do. 

Luckily, it’s easy to use copyrighted material in your video without breaking YouTube fair use law by simply adding commentary or critique to the footage!

Ultimately, commenting on a video of a poorly executed blanket, for example, transforms the material’s original intention. Therefore, using it for instructional purposes abides by the doctrine of fair use.

  1. Keep it short

While there is no official time limit for using copyrighted content in your YouTube videos, the platform will usually permit unlicensed use of audio or video content of up to 30 seconds before flagging for copyright infringement.

That being said, I almost always recommend that my clients use no more than one to three seconds of a copyrighted song or video in their YouTube videos. 

While up to five seconds is okay, ultimately creators should aim to use as little of the copyrighted material as possible. As a general rule of thumb, use only what you need to get your point across.

  1. Read game developers’ terms and conditions

Most YouTubers fail to recognize that, technically speaking, livestream game play videos including walkthroughs and let’s plays are actually against copyright law.

Generally, as with any copyrighted material, unless you receive permission from the game developer to broadcast the content, you are breaking YouTube fair use law by doing so. 

Therefore, it’s extremely important that all YouTube game players 🎮 read the terms and conditions of the games they stream or post. There, you may find either a direct license, which requires an approval process or a general license.

General licenses grant all video game live streamers the rights to play that specific game on their YouTube channels. However, without confirming the developer has provided a general license, you risk DMCA takedowns ⬇️ and copyright flags on your channel.

  1. Avoid the heart of the matter

Whether you’re using copyrighted music, a clip from a film 🎞️, or live streaming video gameplay, you should always avoid the heart of the matter to reduce your chances of copyright flags.

What do I mean by this? 🤷‍♂️

Posting a spoiler of the main plot twist in a video game, for example, would be using the heart of the matter. It’s pretty clear that this would be much riskier than streaming yourself playing the first hour of the game instead.

In another instance, using the iconic “Hit me baby one more time!” 🎶 from Britney Spears’ hit song is much more likely to incite a copyright flag than a few seconds of the first or second verse.

This may seem like a simple distinction, but avoiding the most recognizable and important portions of the copyrighted material you’re using will help keep you out of copyright trouble.

  1. Ask yourself, “Is this transformative?”

If you’re looking for the ONE tip I provide ALL of the clients, THIS is it: 

Taking a piece of art and creating something totally new is the most effective way to follow the doctrine of fair use.

Whether you make a remix or mashup of a copyrighted song, use a clip from Star Wars to critique the films, or react to a funny video, your new purpose for the copyrighted material should be totally different from its original intended purpose.

That being said, if you have any doubts about whether your use of copyrighted material is transformative enough to abide by the doctrine of fair use, consider contacting a social media lawyer for help and guidance.