Risks of Using Copyrighted Music in YouTube Videos

Risks of Using Copyrighted Music in YouTube Videos

Using copyrighted music in YouTube videos can be risky. Music is intellectual property that is protected by copyright laws. Using someone else’s music without permission or the proper licenses can lead to copyright claims, blocked videos, and even legal consequences.

However, there are ways to legally and safely feature music in YouTube content. This guide will outline the risks, and provide tips and alternatives to help you avoid copyright problems when using songs and instrumentals.

Why Copyrighted Music Leads to Issues

YouTube has automatic systems that scan uploaded videos to detect unauthorized uses of copyrighted content. When these systems flag your video, several things can happen:

Video Blocking and Strikes

YouTube may block the video from being viewed by anyone except the uploader. This usually happens when there are multiple copyright claims against the video.

The copyright owner can also issue a copyright “strike” against your channel. Just one strike can restrict some YouTube features like live streaming. Three strikes in 90 days will lead to your channel being terminated.

Ads Placement and Demonetization

Even if your video remains public, copyright claims mean you lose the ability to monetize that video with ads. All ad revenue will go to the music copyright owner instead.

Multiple claims may also make your entire channel unsuitable for monetization via the YouTube Partner Program.

Legal Action and Fines

In serious cases of willful, repeated copyright infringement, copyright owners can sue infringers for up to $150,000 in damages for each work infringed. So using the same popular song across multiple videos exponentially increases liability.

The bottom line: Using copyrighted materials without permission puts your YouTube channel and potential income at risk. But avoiding claims requires understanding music licensing.

YouTube Music Licensing and Permissions

You generally need to obtain licenses or permission from music rightsholders to use songs legally. There are two main types of licenses:

Synchronization (Sync) Licenses

A sync license allows you to use a song with visual media like videos. There are several sync licensing options:

1. Direct sync licenses

You can contact artists, songwriters, publishers, or record labels directly to license songs. Rates can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the song and usage.

This option requires knowing who to contact for permission and negotiating rates. Most independent artists are more affordable and flexible. Popular artists and labels often use rights management companies instead.

2. Production music libraries

Libraries like AudioJungle, Soundstripe, and Artlist offer more affordable pre-cleared music for around $50 per song. You pay a license fee for use in your video.

The selection focuses more on background instrumental music versus popular songs. But the licenses are very flexible, allowing monetization.

3. YouTube audio library

YouTube provides a free audio library of songs and sound effects you can use without worrying about claims. The music is created by independent artists who allow their songs to be used for free.

The catch is that the library has a smaller catalog compared to other options. But if you find a fitting song, licensing is easy since YouTube pre-approves everything.

Public Performance Licenses

A public performance license allows you to play music publicly—like in YouTube videos.Performance rights groups like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Global Music Rights handle these licenses. Songwriters, composers, and publishers affiliate with them to manage licenses.

YouTube secures public performance licenses that cover videos with claimed songs. Copyright owners can still collect royalties, but your video remains public.

However, performance licenses don’t allow syncing music with visuals. That requires separate sync licensing.

Safe Alternatives to Avoid Copyright Issues

If you don’t want to deal with claims or licensing, use music without copyright restrictions:

Royalty-Free Music

Royalty-free (RF) means you buy a license upfront to use songs from an RF library multiple times without paying ongoing royalties. These libraries often offer unlimited licenses for around $99-$299 per year.

Just ensure your license agreement allows commercial use and monetization before using RF tracks on monetized YouTube videos.

Creative Commons Music

Creative Commons (CC) licenses let artists share music freely for certain uses. For example, a CC BY license allows anyone to use, edit, and redistribute a song provided they credit the artist.

YouTube has a CC music library with songs safe to use. But always check the specific CC license attached to a song for usage terms.

Original Music

Creating your own original music or hiring a composer avoids any licensing hassle. You automatically own the copyright to original songs.

Apps like Shutterstock’s Amper Music also generate AI-composed royalty-free music after paying a subscription fee.

Just ensure session musicians or composers you hire sign agreements transferring copyright ownership to you.

Tips to Use Licensed Music Properly

If you do want to use copyrighted music, follow these tips to avoid issues:

Secure All Necessary Licenses

Don’t assume a single license covers everything. For example, just having a YouTube public performance license doesn’t allow syncing music with visuals. Reach out to all rights holders and secure sync licenses if needed.

Provide Accurate Rights Holder Information

Copyright owners must register works and upload their ownership information to YouTube’s Content ID system for automated detection.

If you have licenses or permission, provide detailed rights holder information when uploading your video so Content ID recognizes authorized use.

Dispute Invalid Claims

Even with proper licenses, the automated Content ID system can still occasionally make mistake claims. Know the dispute process to resolve invalid claims.

Provide licensing documentation when disputing to prove your authorized use. For mistaken matches, explain how your audio is different and original.

Attribute Copyright Owners Properly

Always credit music copyright holders in your video descriptions. This shows good faith fair use even if Content ID flags the video.

Proper attribution also complies with license agreements that often require visibly crediting owners.

What If You Receive a Copyright Claim?

If you do get a claim, here’s what to do next:

Remove the Video Temporarily

If it’s a valid claim and you don’t have licenses, immediately remove the video. This stops the copyright owner from taking harsher action like channel strikes or lawsuits.

Check If the Claim Is Valid

Sometimes the automated system makes mistake claims if your original audio sounds similar to a popular song. Confirm whether your content is really infringing before disputing.

Negotiate Licensing Deals Retroactively

Getting licenses after posting an infringing video can convince copyright holders to retract claims. Most will just be satisfied their content is now properly licensed.

Dispute Invalid Claims

As mentioned earlier, dispute mistaken claims by providing proof of licenses, permission, attribution, fair use arguments, or original content creation.

Submit Counter-Notifications for Fair Use

If you have a valid fair use reason for using copyrighted content, submit a counter-notification after disputing. This challenges the claim. But fair use can be complex, so seek legal advice first.

FAQ About Copyrighted Music on YouTube

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Can I use short music clips under fair use?

Only very brief unaltered clips of songs (usually under 15 seconds) have a fair use defense for commentary or critique purposes. Using lengthy excerpts still risks claims.

What about popular songs edited or covered by new artists?

Covers and remixes still contain copyrighted melodies and lyrics, so you still need licenses and permission from original rights holders.

Can I use music if I don’t monetize the video?

Yes, but claims can still happen, blocking viewership. Rights holders may issue claims simply to track unauthorized usage for internal analytics.

Does music I sing or play myself avoid claims?

Yes, for original performances. But cover songs still carry composition copyrights. If you wrote the song yourself, then covers are allowed too.

Can game soundtracks be used freely?

No, music made specifically for games is still copyrighted. Game publishers must authorize usage as well beyond just composers.

What are the consequences beyond YouTube penalties?

YouTube ultimately terminates repeat infringer accounts. Beyond that, copyright owners can sue for sizable damages per infringement.

Using even short, unaltered clips of popular songs is risky without licensing. Rely on legitimate music libraries offering royalty-free, creative commons or YouTube approved tracks instead. Reach out to artists directly if you must feature their songs.

Stay vigilant in monitoring claims if using any third-party music. Resolve invalid claims quickly and remove infringing videos immediately to avoid harsh consequences. Protect your channel by only adding properly licensed music.

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