YouTube fair use is a hot topic. Although the beauty of sharing video is being able to show the viewer exactly what you’re talking about, you also have to be careful not to engage in copyright infringement.
If those last two words make you want to pour a stiff drink and call a lawyer friend, never fear. It’s not as scary as you might think.
YouTube Fair Use
YouTube provides a good guide on what constitutes fair use. In the United States, there are four general guidelines that YouTube recommends following.
1. The first is if the work is transformative, meaning that it adds further depth or understanding to the original work. This is most often used when video clips are used for educational or nonprofit purposes, particularly when the user makes additional commentary that adds or transforms the original piece.
2. The second is if the original purpose of the video was factual in nature. Thus, courts are more likely to support using clips from news broadcast than from a fictional work.
3. The amount of the work cited compared to the entire piece. A 30-second clip from a three-hour movie has a better chance of being considered fair use than using the entire 30-second clip of a commercial. But be careful – courts will evaluate if those clips are critical or integral to the work overall (think the ending of The Sixth Sense).
4. The use of the copyrighted material must not negatively impact the copyright owner’s ability to profit from the original work. Thus, creating a playlist populated with five-minute clips that, when played together, show a newly released movie, would run afoul of this rule. On the other hand, a parody of a scene from that movie would not necessarily run afoul of fair use.
What if Someone is Infringing on My Copyright?
The good news is that YouTube takes copyright infringement very seriously. The process is clearly explained here. Before you issue a takedown notice, make sure the piece you’re flagging doesn’t fall under one of the four categories mentioned above. Someone doing a review of your product and showing a few seconds of your commercial is probably fine under fair use. Someone who is showing your entire commercial on their channel probably isn’t.