Risks of Using Unlicensed Brand Content on YouTube

Uploading YouTube videos featuring recognizable brands and logos without permission poses legal risks. However, many creators are unaware of copyright and trademark laws, accidentally exposing themselves to potential litigation.

This article will explore practical tips to educate YouTube creators on identifying protected materials, legally using them, and ultimately avoiding legal action for unlicensed content. With some knowledge and planning, you can produce quality videos without worrying about your channel getting strikes or video takedowns.

Why You Can Get in Trouble for Using Brands Without Permission

Brand names, logos, packaging, products, and other intellectual property are valuable corporate assets protected under trademark and copyright laws. Using them without authorization from the trademark or copyright holder is illegal.

YouTube complies with DMCA takedown procedures. Brands can submit complaints over trademark or copyright infringement, prompting YouTube to remove videos featuring their IP or even terminate channels. You may also face civil litigation or criminal charges for willful infringement.

You can get in trouble even without monetizing videos or profiting from them directly. Simply displaying a legally protected brand or logo without permission violates intellectual property rights.

This article will explore practical strategies to use brands legally and avoid legal risks when uploading YouTube videos.

Identifying Protected Brand Assets

The first step towards minimizing legal risk is understanding what types of brand IP are protected by law. Major categories include:

Trademarks

Trademarks protect brand names, logos, slogans, packaging, and more. You must obtain permission before displaying these in videos. Exceptions under “fair use” allow brief incidental appearances without permission.

YouTube scans videos to detect trademarked content and compare against registered trademarks provided by brands. Using a company’s name, logo, or slogan prominently without permission raises trademark violation risks.

Copyright

Copyright protects creative works like product photos, advertisements, music, film clips, and other artwork. You must obtain licenses from copyright holders before incorporating substantial portions of these materials in your YouTube videos.

YouTube’s automated systems scan uploads against an extensive database of copyrighted works registered by brands and issue takedowns for matches. Even short music clips or video segments may lead to removal.

Strategies to Legally Use Brand Names, Logos & Products

You can legally feature brands in YouTube videos through careful planning and certain best practices:

Seek Explicit Permission

The safest approach is contacting the brand and negotiating formal permission to use their trademarks or copyrighted materials.

With permission, you can display logos, play ads, showcase products, and use other IP. Document permissions to contest any mistaken complaints.

Rely on Fair Use Exemptions

You may qualify for “fair use” exemptions allowing unlicensed use of copyrighted materials or trademarks under certain conditions:

  • Brief, incidental references or appearances
  • Transformative usage as part of criticism, commentary, education, news reporting, etc.
  • Proportionally small usage relative to original work
  • No significant negative impact on IP owner’s commercial usage

Fair use protects creators commenting on brands, reviewing products, reporting news, and producing other videos serving the public interest. Avoid relying too heavily on unlicensed IP. YouTube still may issue initial copyright claims you must contest as fair use.

Cite Trademarks Properly

When writing brand names in titles, descriptions, or metadata, follow guidelines for nominative fair use of trademarks:

  • Only use as much of the mark as needed for identification
  • Don’t suggest sponsorship or endorsement
  • Set apart from your own products/services

Instead of a title like “iPhone Review,” use “Review of Apple’s iPhone.” This shows you are referring to the trademarked good itself, not co-opting the brand name.

Mask Logos Partially

Displaying a brand’s logo may strengthen trademark claims against your video. Consider partially covering, blurring, altering logos, or reducing to sizes where text becomes illegible.

Transformative fair use permits editing trademarks to communicate ideas, not commercial usage of the brand iconography itself. Masking logos also defeats YouTube’s matching algorithms.

Avoiding Takedowns and Copyright Strikes

If you receive copyright claims or complaints from brands, YouTube may take punitive actions against your channel:

Video Takedowns

Copyright holders can request removing individual videos featuring infringing material through DMCA takedowns. Trademark owners may similarly report videos misusing protected marks.

Takedowns don’t directly penalize your channel. However, they immediately make videos unavailable for public viewing.

Copyright Strikes

Accumulating three copyright strikes from multiple notifications leads YouTube to terminate your entire channel. Strikes expire after 90 days.

Trademark-based complaints don’t produce strikes. But you still want to avoid flooding your channel with removal notices.

Here are tips to contest overzealous claims and maintain your account:

  • Double check fair use rationales and written permissions
  • Reassess videos for any unnecessarily prominent IP usage
  • Edit videos to mask logos further or remove protected materials
  • Formally contest invalid complaints and strikes
  • Consult legal counsel over litigation threats

With some strategic adjustments, you can continue producing quality branded content safely under the law.

FAQ

Can I show brand logos in YouTube videos?

Displaying trademarks like brand names, logos, slogans, and mascots without permission risks trademark infringement claims. However, references qualifying as fair use or nominative fair use may be permissible depending on context. Avoid overly prominent usage not critical for commentary purposes.

What if I don’t monetize my videos?

Monetization and profit are not requirements for infringement. Trademark and copyright owners can still demand removing unauthorized uses of IP. Not earning ad revenue may somewhat weaken infringement claims but does not provide blanket protection.

How much of a product can I show?

Displaying full products or packaging to showcase features or visuals likely qualifies as fair use, especially in review contexts. However, replicating official marketing photographs or advertisements on product websites more likely constitutes copyright infringement. Analyze your specific usage against the four fair use factors.

Can I use a brand’s name in my video title?

Titles should avoid looking like official branding by the company or suggesting sponsorship, instead clearly separating their trademarks from your own content. For example, “Samsung Galaxy Unboxing by MyChannel” or “Trying Starbucks Holiday Drinks.” Provide context identifying you as the creator discussing the brand.

What constitutes a legal disclaimer?

Include both copyright and trademark disclaimers visibly in video descriptions. For example, “Product names are trademarks of their respective owners, and use does not imply endorsement or affiliation.” Also state, “Media clips used qualify as fair use and belong to respective copyright owners.” Explicitly renouncing claims over featured IP protects you legally.

I hope these tips help YouTube creators safely navigate intellectual property issues! Let me know if you have any other questions. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can produce branded videos without legal risks. Please consult an attorney for professional advice on fair use and risk management strategies tailored to your specific channel.

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