How to stay clear of YouTube copyright problems

Please note: This article should not be interpreted as legal advice, nor should it be interpreted as creating any kind of attorney-client or legal advisor relationship. You should NOT rely upon the legal information or opinions provided, and you should consult with your personal legal advisor. You are solely responsible for any legal decisions or actions you take or omissions you commit.

Copyright basics

Copyright is a scary thing, especially on YouTube. How can you stay clear of YouTube copyright problems and keep your channel safe? Fullscreen’s golden rule: if you don’t own it or haven’t licensed it, don’t upload it. If you follow this one simple policy, it’ll help you keep clear of almost all third-party copyright claims.

Unfortunately, YouTubers often share a few common misconceptions that they think will help keep them clear. For example: “If I only use 10, 5, or even 3 seconds of a piece of content that someone else has copyright on, I’m in the clear.” Incorrect. There’s no law surrounding this that would allow you to use even a short portion of copyrighted content in your video. In short, if you haven’t licensed the content you want to use, you should reach out to the owner before adding it to your video.


You might think that if you did license a piece of copyrighted content, that exempts you 100% from ever getting a copyright or Content ID claim on YouTube. But this is not the case.

If you’ve obtained a license for a piece of third-party material, make sure that you’ve fully read the license and understand what it does and does not allow. In some cases, the license you purchased may not allow you to monetize the content. So be careful.


The legal landscape around music has changed a lot recently. Downloadable music is available to buy everywhere these days—but buying a song on iTunes, Google Play, or any where else does not provide you with a license to repurpose, distribute, and monetize it.

If you want to use a song in a video and then monetize that video, you have to make sure you’ve purchased a commercial license from the proper copyright holders and be 100% sure that that license permits you to monetize.

For example: say your friend who’s in that really cool band told you that it would be okay to use their song in your video. If they’ve recorded that song on an album that has been released by anyone—even the band itself—you may still receive a Content ID claim if the band itself doesn’t have the rights to allow you to use their song.

The golden rule

Again, the golden rule—if you don’t own it or haven’t licensed it, don’t upload it—should help you stay clear of having too many problems on YouTube. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Best of luck!