How Image Copyrights Are Enforced Against YouTube Creators

Uploading and using images on YouTube videos is extremely common. However, many creators fail to consider image copyrights and end up facing consequences like copyright claims, strikes, and even channel terminations.

Understanding image copyrights is crucial for all YouTube creators. With the right knowledge, you can legally access images to use in your videos without worrying about penalties. You can also dispute incorrect copyright claims if you do get hit.

This comprehensive guide will provide YouTube creators with a deep understanding of how image copyrights are enforced on the platform. It outlines common copyright violations, penalties, dispute processes, and proactive tips to avoid issues.

Common Image Copyright Violations on YouTube

Using copyrighted images without permission or a valid legal defense is unfortunately very common on YouTube. Here are some of the most frequent violations:

Using Stock Photos Without a License

Stock photo sites own the copyrights to their images. Using them without an appropriate license can lead to DMCA takedown notices.

Using Photos from News Sites or Blogs

Images published on news/media sites and blogs are typically copyrighted. You’ll need to seek permission before using them.

Using Celebrity or Brand Images Illegally

Using a celebrity’s image or brand logos without consent can violate personality rights and trademark laws.

Re-Uploading Copyrighted Videos as Your Own

Downloading clips from movies, TV shows, or other YouTube videos and re-uploading as your own content is a serious violation.

Including Background Music Without a License

Background music in videos also requires appropriate licensing. Using unlicensed music violates music copyrights.

The core issue is using copyrighted content without permission or a valid legal defense like fair use.

Penalties Issued by YouTube for Image Copyright Violations

YouTube issues escalating penalties to creators who repeatedly violate others’ copyrights:

Copyright Claims

A copyright claim mutes audio or blocks monetization on the infringing video. Multiple claims can lead to strikes.

Copyright Strikes

Strikes are severe penalties issued for valid copyright complaints. Just one strike restricts features like live streaming. Three strikes in 90 days will terminate your channel. Strikes expire after 90 days.

Channel Termination

In cases of severe, repeated copyright infringement, YouTube can permanently disable your channel and remove all your content. Terminated channels cannot be reinstated.

It’s critical to respond to any copyright claim or strike by either removing the content or disputing the complaint if you have a valid defense.

Disputing Image Copyright Claims on YouTube

If you believe your use of an image qualifies as fair use or is otherwise non-infringing, you can dispute copyright claims via YouTube Studio:

Provide a Legal Defense

Explain why your use of the image is legally defensible under doctrines like fair use, public domain, incidental use, etc. Provide factual details to support your case.

Submit a Formal Counter-Notification

For formal disputes, you’ll need to submit a complete counter-notification form detailing your legal position. Make sure to consult a lawyer beforehand.

Comply With Any Court Orders

In rare cases, copyright owners may sue you in court over formally disputed claims. If this happens, you must comply with any court orders issued or you may face harsher penalties.

Disputes can help resolve incorrect claims, but they come with legal risks if you don’t understand copyright law well.

7 Proactive Tips to Avoid Image Copyright Issues on YouTube

Here are some key tips to avoid image copyright frustrations in the first place:

1. Only Use Images You Have Explicit Rights To

The safest option is to only use your own original images or those you have explicit licenses or permission to use commercially.

2. Attribute Images Properly

If you use Creative Commons-licensed images, follow attribution requirements like crediting the creator in your video description.

3. Qualify Images as Fair Use

Fair use protects commentary, criticism, news reporting, etc. Ensure your videos meet legal criteria for fair use defenses to apply.

4. Dispute Invalid Claims

Don’t ignore inaccurate copyright claims. Dispute them through proper legal procedures on YouTube Studio.

5. Purchase Stock Subscriptions

Investing in premium stock photo/video subscriptions like Shutterstock provides worry-free commercial usage rights.

6. Alter Copyrighted Images Significantly

Modifying copyrighted images beyond recognition with edits, overlays and effects strengthens fair use arguments.

7. Consult a Lawyer If Unsure

Copyright law contains nuances. If you want to use restricted images or dispute claims, consult a lawyer experienced in these matters.

Following these best practices will help you access great images legally while minimizing copyright issues.

FAQs About Image Copyrights on YouTube

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions creators have about using images on YouTube:

Can I use Google Images without permission?

No. Google pulls images from various websites. Just because you find an image on Google doesn’t mean it’s copyright-free or that you have rights to use it. Always check the source and usage rights.

What images can I use without getting copyright strikes?

YouTube provides an audio/video library containing content you can use without copyright concerns. Some stock sites like Pexels and Pixabay also offer completely royalty-free media. Otherwise, only use images you have explicit rights to.

Does YouTube notify you before a copyright strike?

YouTube sends an initial copyright claim on potentially infringing videos before issuing strikes. This gives you a chance to remove or edit the content before harsher consequences. However, repeat offenders can have their channels terminated without additional warnings.

Can I get strikes removed by deleting the video?

Yes, deleting the infringing video will remove an active strike. However, it will still count as one of your three strikes if you commit another violation within 90 days.

Does disputing a claim always resolve it?

No, disputing doesn’t automatically resolve the claim. The copyright holder reviews the dispute and decides whether to release their claim based on your arguments. Legally sound disputes have the best chance of succeeding.

Understanding the policies around image usage and strikes allows you to manage risk effectively.


Avoiding frustration over image copyright issues on YouTube simply comes down to using content you have clear rights to use. Seek explicit licenses and permissions whenever possible.

Where you want to rely on legal defenses like fair use, consult lawyers to ensure your case meets the criteria. Don’t try to interpret the law yourself.

Following the tips in this guide will help you legally access great images for your YouTube videos without copyright woes sabotaging your channel. Just be proactive and you’ll be all set!

Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions. I’m happy to provide guidance to keep your channel thriving.

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