Quoting Copyrighted Material on Youtube Legally

YouTube has become one of the most popular ways for people to express their creativity and share their content. However, when using copyrighted material in your videos, it’s important to follow YouTube’s copyright guidelines to avoid strikes, channel termination, and legal issues. This comprehensive guide will provide tips and best practices to legally quote or repurpose copyrighted content on YouTube.

YouTube provides an incredible platform for creators to produce and distribute videos globally. However, to protect the original creators and copyright owners, there are rules around using copyrighted content properly. Failing to follow these guidelines can lead to serious consequences like copyright claims, strikes, and even lawsuits. Fortunately, creators have some options for legally using copyrighted movies, TV shows, music, images, etc. in their YouTube videos.

YouTube’s Stance on Copyright

YouTube has a strict three-strikes copyright system. Copyright owners can submit claims against videos that infringe on their work. The impacts of copyright claims and strikes on channels depend on the amount:

  • A copyright claim means the video can stay up, but the copyright owner places ads and earns the revenue. Multiple claims may restrict monetization.
  • One copyright strike blocks uploading for a week. Strikes expire in 90 days.
  • Two strikes disable monetization until the strikes expire.
  • Three copyright strikes in 90 days will terminate the channel. Strikes never completely expire.

YouTube also complies fully with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), meaning legal complaints obligate them to remove infringing videos. Fair use does provide some exceptions to copyright law. However, due to YouTube’s private platform policies, fair use claims may not protect videos from strikes.

Evaluating Fair Use

U.S. copyright law includes the fair use doctrine, which permits reproducing small portions of protected works for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching… scholarship, or research” purposes. Though other countries lack explicit fair use policies, some have related exemptions under broader “fair dealing” provisions.

When applying fair use to YouTube videos, creators should evaluate these four factors:

1. Purpose and Character

Using copyrighted materials for nonprofit, educational, journalistic, satirical, or transformative purposes favors fair use. Monetizing videos weakens, but does not eliminate, a fair use claim. Critics must add substantial original commentary, not just repost content unchanged.

2. Nature of Copyrighted Work

Using factual information and published works better suits fair use compared to unpublished or highly creative works of fiction, art, film, etc. Quoting factual info and short literary excerpts typically causes less market harm.

3. Amount Used

Borrowing small portions of a whole copyrighted work better aligns with fair use rather than using its “heart.” There is no set time limit, but 10-15 seconds is common guidance. Critics should only use as much as necessary to make their point.

4. Effect on Market

If repurposing a work negatively impacts its potential market/profits without adding new meaning, then fair use likely does not apply. Critics must justify why borrowing content does not just supersede the original.

Evaluating these four factors determines if repurposing copyrighted material aligns with fair use exemptions. However, YouTube may still issue copyright claims on videos citing fair use since fair use affects legal consequences, not platform rules. YouTubers can try disputing claims, but success rates are low. The following sections explain other quoting options.

Secure Licensing Deals

The most guaranteed, legal way for YouTubers to reuse copyrighted materials is by securing proper licenses from rights holders through distribution platforms. Here are top options:

YouTube Video Editor

YouTube’s built-in online editor provides an audio library with copyright-free music tracks as well as creative commons videos to reuse. Simply credit appropriately.

YouTube Audio Library

YouTube also compiles audio tracks creators can use in videos without copyright concerns. Genres include cinematic, corporate, and even meme sound effects.

Epidemic Sound

This music licensing site offers an affordable YouTube subscription providing unlimited access to high-quality tracks safe from copyright claims. Creators wholly own their videos.


Artgrid has a YouTube subscription service for video creators, offering loads of HD video footage and images usable in monetized content. Rates start under $20 monthly.

Adobe Stock

Adobe’s collection spans over 200 million assets including, vectors, icons, templates, videos, audio tracks, images, etc. Subscription plans enable using files royalty-free in YouTube videos.

Getty Images

Getty offers quality stock photos and archival footage available to license and legally incorporate into YouTube content without attribution. Subscription plans allow up to 750 monthly video downloads.

Securing licenses proves you have the rights to feature copyrighted materials in monetized videos. However, these options limit reuse to subscriber content not other media. Fair use lets you repurpose external copyrighted materials using discretion.

Exercise Fair Use Appropriately

YouTubers can exercise fair use rights by adding transformative commentary when briefly displaying copyrighted materials. Here are some best practices:

Use Short Clips

Borrow only minor portions of larger copyrighted works—10-15 seconds of a song or 1-2 minutes of a film. Criticize content without replacing it.

Credit the Material

Properly cite all copyrighted materials you critique including titles/creators. Make efforts to credit within videos too.

Provide Commentary

Ensure copyrighted content directly supports your broader original opinions or analysis. Do not simply repost it without adding new meaning.

Focus on Education

Fair use extends to teaching lessons so consider explaining contextual info students may lack when showing copyrighted materials.

Avoid Manual Flags

YouTube’s automated system flags snippets of copyrighted stuff detected through fingerprinting. Avoid manual flagging by rights holders.

Dispute Improper Claims

If YouTube’s automated Content ID system incorrectly flags fair use instances, craft polite counter notifications citing fair use exemptions.

Be Careful with Monetization

YouTube allows monetizing videos featuring fair use commentary. But copyright holders may respond more negatively to earning profits without permissions.

Weigh Consequences

Evaluate if the benefits of sharing copyrighted content are worth the hassle of potential claims. Seek alternatives like commentary without visuals if unsure.

Exercising fair use involves taking calculated risks. Rights owners may disagree with videos citing fair use defenses. Prepare to contest claims or simply do not use copyrighted stuff if unwilling to accept potential concessions.

Alternative Options

YouTubers have alternatives to repurposing clips from copyrighted sources directly in videos. Some options include:

Verbal Commentary

Avoid showing actual brief copyrighted clips and instead describe the materials verbally in commentary. Then viewers can check it out separately if interested.

Text Commentary

Displaying copyrighted materials visually may not be essential. Perhaps typing out lyrics, quoting books passages, or describing scenes with images could suffice when criticizing.

Offsite Links

Instead of risking video flags by embedding copyrighted clips, provide links directing viewers to check out primary sources separately after watching your commentary.

Video Essay Formats

Publish commentary audio recordings as podcast-style YouTube videos or over background images without featuring bits of copyrighted videos or films themselves.

Commentary Voiceovers

If displaying copyrighted visuals is absolutely essential: upload offline, extract audio commentary, then mix as voiceovers over images to avoid automated flagging while transforming content.

Getting creative with formats allows producing videos essays, parodies, criticism, etc without actually embedding copyrighted materials likely to trigger YouTube’s automated enforcement bots.

Prevent Copyright Claims

While YouTube provides some creator protections, copyright claims and strikes still happen frequently. Here are key tips to help prevent them:

Double Check Licenses

Verify resources like YouTube Audio Library tracks are licensed for commercial use before claiming monetization rights. Public domain offers different allowances than copyright-free.

Dispute Early

If struck by an improper claim, disputing within 30 days prompts YouTube to review and restore unfairly removed videos. Use counter notifications.

Remove Matching Segments

Edit out snippets that copyright bots flagged after receiving claims. Muting audio with matches may also resolve some disputes automatically upon reupload.

Check Status Annually

Disputed claims often get dismissed after a year of inaction by claimants. Request reinstatement by confirming copyright owners have not sued to keep materials removed.

Secure Releases

Get permission to post content featuring people, brands with trademarks, personally-owned properties, etc. via written releases protecting against privacy, defamation, and intellectual property claims.

Exercising caution allows harnessing YouTube’s immense potential reach safely. Seeking licenses, confirming fair use rights, minimizing copyrighted materials, and resolving disputes promptly helps creators leverage the platform’s opportunities legally.


YouTube provides incredible marketing distribution and profit potential for creators willing to play by its rules—especially around copyright. YouTubers can avoid claims by securing licenses, minimizing copyrighted materials incorporated, adding transformative commentary, citing properly, and disputing inaccuracies. With the right education on fair use and platform policies, video bloggers can quote media legally

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