YouTube Copyright Infringement – Serious Business (and how to avoid it)!

YouTube is awesome. Besides being the 2nd largest search engine in the world (behind Google), it’s a great place to market your band’s songs, performances, videos, marketing on your music business, etc. There’s so much content on it nowadays, to the point that 100 hours of video are uploaded each minute!

And the last thing you want to have happen is anything threatening your YouTube channel…which brings us to today’s topic.

Odds are you’ve been hearing about a crackdown from media corporations on YouTube in recent months….with the crackdown being on copyright infringements. YouTube has been required by law to aggressively target particular YouTube channels for content in videos where either the video and/or audio have been marked for copyright infringement.

Basically put, even if you aren’t aware that your content may be in violation, your YouTube-hosted videos may be in danger of copyright violation according to YouTube regulations. This could range from an innocent home movie with a pop song on it, to a snippet of a TV show or movie, to a video of a live concert. This still holds true even if you didn’t create the video but are hosting it on your channel!

What happens if you get hit with copyright infringement on YouTube?

If cited by YouTube for this, you could potentially face the following consequences:

  1. For each violation you receive, you receive a ‘copyright strike’, which if you resolve the dispute right away and remain in good standing for 6 months, will be lifted.
    1. If hit with a strike you can lose or have reduced certain YouTube functionality like the ability to host unlisted videos, host Google Hangout sessions, streaming capability or not be allowed to host videos longer than 15 minutes.
  2. If you receive 3 copyright strikes, your YouTube channel may be permanently deleted and your account on YouTube deactivated.

Ouch. This can hurt….especially those who rely on YouTube for promotion and marketing.

And how do I know this?

Because it recently happened to me.  And of all the things to get nailed on…was with my own original written material. And I got it resolved, but it was a nail-biting experience…one I would not wish on my readers.

Here’s the backstory: Back in 2001, I was in a band that had a song picked for airing on the MTV show “Undressed”. The show aired, we recorded it on tape, and about 7 years ago I put that 30-second snippet of the show on my YouTube channel…then promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to recent times, where I received an email from YouTube that Viacom had targeted the video (and hence my YouTube channel) with a copyright strike. The result? In addition to other limitations, I was no longer allowed to post unlisted videos, could not post anything longer than 15 minutes, and I could no longer do live streaming. Plus with the copyright strike, 2 more in succession would have resulted in permanent deletion of my channel.

This. Sucked. Royally. I rely on the channel for my music, privately stored videos of family, through my other business ventures, etc. Losing the channel would have been crippling for me. We’re talking livelihood here, folks.

So I did some quick research and after lots of Googling and phone calls, was finally able to reach the legal department at Viacom and had a nice chat with one of the staff. He explained to me that, even though the song was an original composition of my former band’s, the fact that it had an excerpt of MTV content was the main reason for the violation. After a bit more discussion, they were fine with retracting the strike after I pulled the video, which they did.


So then I got paranoid and promptly went through the rest of my videos to make sure I wasn’t going to have to deal with any other infractions. Sure enough, I found an unlisted video (by the way the video doesn’t have to be public to be given a strike) of an old family movie that had background music dubbed on it from Windham Hill Records that had a copyright flag on it too. It wasn’t a full strike, but I wanted to be diligent all the same, so I re-uploaded the video but without the music this time, deleted the old video, and Voila! Safe!

OK then, how can I avoid getting a copyright penalty?

 There are actually several ways that you can go about ensuring this doesn’t happen to you. Remember, in certain situations, even if it’s your own material, you should still follow the suggestions below (credit for the content goes to Ksenia Dobreva at

  1. Ask the video owner first for permission – it’s always good to check first with them and in addition to covering your ass, it’s a nice gesture. However, be warned as the owner of the content reserves the right to change their mind at any time without having to consult you first. And before you think “Out of sight, out of mind” keep in mind that there are tools created by YouTube that manage copyright and content for brands and companies, so it’s easy for a content owner to find channels that have uploaded videos with their branding. And if you don’t get permission to use it, at the very least respect their rights as the owner. You would want the same if the situation was reversed!
  2. Don’t upload any content from movies, television, commercials, live shows, albums, etc. – Even if it was a live clip that you yourself recorded at a show, or if you own the album or show, don’t chance it. You’re still likely to be targeted if you ignore this. If you’re still unsure, you could always try suggestion #1, but again, no guarantees.
  3. Watch the YouTube Copyright School video – It’s just over 4-1/2 minutes, isn’t nearly as painful to watch as you think, and it’s always good to get the lowdown straight from the horse’s mouth so that you’re in the know.

  1. Review the YouTube Copyright Center – again, straight from the horse’s mouth, and you can find lots more detail here at this link.
  2. Make sure you’re up on your country’s copyright laws – In this case, ignorance is NOT bliss. If you’re not aware of what your country’s laws and regulations are regarding copyrights, go study up on them. If you’re hit with a copyright strike, odds are that the party giving the strike will not accept ‘I didn’t know’ as a reply. There are certain exceptions that you may be able to take advantage of (i.e. Fair Use is permissible in some cases in the US) but again, the ultimate responsibility for knowing what and what not to post lies with you.
  3. If you make a video, use the generic music provided by YouTube for that purpose – If you’re not marketing a song or songs, say for instance if you’re wanting to publicize your recording studio but want background music for the video, you can use music provided by YouTube…it’s already licensed for public use and you won’t be penalized for using it in your videos.
  4. Use videos provided under the Creative Commons license – Those videos are accessible to anyone on YouTube via the YouTube Video Editor.
  5. Make your own videos with your own audio – A no-brainer, but to be perfectly honest it’s the safest approach to go…unless you get a kick out of suing yourself.
  6. If you’re not exactly sure and you can’t get permission, don’t upload it – If it’s down to whether or not you’re unable to determine if what you have violates copyright law, best not to tempt fate. If you think no one will ever find out, that’s up to you, but again I would revisit suggestion #1 if you can.

Remember guys, YouTube is serious about this and I’d hate to see any of you lose your channel, your viewers and videos because you weren’t aware of this.

One last disclaimer: my experience with this was my own. I do not guarantee that your situation will be able to resolve itself nor do I guarantee that you’ll be 100% immune from copyright scrutiny as a result of the above…each case is different, depending upon the owner, the video and the situation.

So do yourselves a favor, and go through all your existing videos to make sure you’re not potentially in violation. And then proceed to make your own videos with your own music, upload, and promote!


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Rob Cushing

Rob Cushing, along with being the co-founder of this blog, is a renowned singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who has performed and toured nationally with many famed musical acts. He currently resides in Cape Cod, MA with his wife and son, where he usually can be found holed up in the studio, coaching others on their bands & businesses, or enjoying the beaches.

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