YouTube is a video-sharing site that allows you to watch, like, comment, share and upload your own videos. The slogan ‘broadcast yourself’ shows that user-generated content is the driving force behind this social network. This article will discuss copyright and what that means for your Youtube videos.

What is Copyright?

Copyright protects a wide range of material including film, music, sound recordings, text, broadcasts and artistic works. Copyright protects all material from the moment it is produced. It is free and there is no need to register. In Australia, copyright protection lasts for life of the author + 70 years.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows the use of copyright material without the permission of the copyright owner.

Youtube has Fair Use Protection program which covers the legal costs of a small number of individual videos each year that have been unfairly targeted for takedown. Although this is only a small step towards fairer copyright laws, it represents a big shift in YouTube’s policy to protect users as well as copyright owners.

What is Fair Dealing?

In Australia this concept is known as ‘fair dealing’. Fair dealing allows for the use of copyright material without the owner’s permission for the following purposes:

  • Research or study;
  • Criticism or review;
  • Parody or satire;
  • Reporting news;
  • Enabling a person with a disability to access material; or
  • Professional advice by a lawyer.

It can be costly and time-consuming for individuals and small businesses to claim “fair dealing”. YouTube’s Content ID software scans video against a database of copyright material. In most cases, YouTube blocks the infringing content. it can be difficult to overturn the decision.

Additionally, you must consider whether you plan to distribute your video amongst friends and family, or for commercial-use. Consequently, you should consider whether it really is ‘fair’ to use somebody’s else material if you are hoping to gain a profit. 

Safe ways to use copyright material in your YouTube video

1. Creative Commons

Firstly, Creative Commons is an international non-profit organisation that provides free licences to copyright owners who want to share their material. There are number of databases that allow you search for different types of material that are covered by a creative commons open licence.

2. Copyright expired material

Secondly, once copyright expires on a work it enters the public domain. However there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Copyright may have expired in Australia but not in other countries, such as the US;
  • Your video might contain more than one type of copyright (e.g. music, film and text). 

3. Pre-cleared material

Thirdly, a variety of companies pre-clear material for use on YouTube. These third-parties offer a way to legally use content without directly approaching the rightsholder by charging a small fee.

Has your copyright material been used on YouTube?

Conversely, if you or your business has copyright material that has been replicated without your consent on Youtube, you should first contact Youtube and request they take it down. If this is unsuccessful, it may be worth issuing a cease and desist letter to the person who uploaded the video.

If you would like more information on how to legally use copyright material, a copyright lawyer  can advise you on your rights.

Yes it is possible to use copyright material in your YouTube video, but you must ensure that you that you are doing it in the right way. Australia has a fair dealing doctrine that allows users to use copyright material if it is for one of the specific purposes listed above. Nonetheless, a ‘fair dealing’ defence in court can be costly and time-consuming for individuals and small businesses. Instead, the Creative Commons database is a great place to search for material. Finally, you may turn to the public domain or pre-cleared material for your video content. 

Have more questions? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.

Madeleine Findlay

Madeleine is a legal intern at LawPath as part of their content team. She is currently in her second year of LLB at Macquarie University majoring in Media, Technology and the Law.