What Is Considered Fair Use On YouTube?

Learn about the concept of fair use on YouTube and what rules you should follow to avoid copyrighting and its consequences.

If you are a YouTuber and one who takes your career as a video content creator on the YouTube platform seriously, you will find that you are familiar with some terminologies on the platform and within the video creators’ space.

One of the many terms used by YouTubers and on the YouTube space is “Fair Use?”

What is fair use or how does it apply to YouTube? 

Can it affect your business or career as an online video creator on the YouTube platform? 

This article is written to answer every question you have about Fair Use on YouTube.

If you’re looking for answers, all you need to do is simply read till the end. No distractions.

So, what should you be expecting from this article?

Let’s find out how Fair Use works on YouTube and how it applies and relates to you as a YouTuber.

Ready? Let’s go!

What Is Considered Fair Use?

Fair Use is legal terminology that is used to mean that you can reuse copyright-protected material under certain circumstances without getting permission from the original or copyright owner.

Fair Use On YouTube

So, what is considered Fair Use on YouTube?

This answers the question of “Can I use what’s not mine without being sued?”

Now, here’s another part you need to know: Fair Use comes with guidelines, and the guidelines apply differently in different countries.

This means you can use the rules in one country for another country and get into trouble, so you better listen.

Different countries have different rules about when it’s okay for content creators to use material without the copyright owner’s permission.

For instance, in the United States of America, works of criticism, commentary, teaching, research, or even news reporting, might be considered fair use.

Meanwhile, a couple of some other countries have a similar idea called fair dealing that might work a little more different from that in the United States.

Also, courts analyze potential fair uses according to the facts of each specific case.

This means that you need to get legal advice from an expert before uploading videos that contain copyright-protected material as a YouTube content creator.

When it comes to fair use, there are four main factors that influence how it works.

In the United States of America, fair use is usually determined by a judge who analyzes how each of these four factors that influence how Fair use works, applies to a specific case.

Want to find out these four factors? Read on.

a. The Purpose And Character Of The Use, Which Includes Whether Such Use Is Of Commercial Nature Or Is For Non-Profit Educational Purposes:

In this factor, courts usually focus mainly on whether the use of the copyright-protected material is “transformative.” 

That means, whether or not it adds new meaning or expression to the original, or if it just copies exactly from the original.

In reality, commercial uses are less likely considered as Fair use, although it’s possible to monetize a video and yet still take advantage of the Fair use defense.

You might need to get more legal explanation on how that works.

b. The Nature Of The Copyrighted Work:

In this case, fair use is judged based on if the work is factual or fictional. 

Using material from factual works is more likely to be considered as fair use than using material from purely fictional works.

Fair Use On YouTube

c. The Amount And Substantiality Of The Portion That Is Used In Relation To The Copyrighted Work As A Whole: 

Lots of legal languages? 

Well, this just means that borrowing small bits and parts of material from an original work is more likely to be considered as fair use than borrowing large portions.

However, even a little usage in the case where it’s considered to be the “heart” of the work may weigh against fair use.

d. The Effect Of The Use On The Potential Market For, Or The Value Of The Copyrighted Work:

This refers to uses that harm the copyright’s ability, chance, or the potential to profit from her original work. 

These cases are less likely to be considered fair use.

Courts have sometimes made exceptions, however, under this factor in cases involving parodies.

To further help you understand better, here are a couple of Best Practices to keep in mind when considering Fair Use of YouTube:

1. Commenting On Or Critiquing Of Copyrighted Material

Video makers often take an example of pop culture to use as their raw material and comment on them in some ways. 

They can also add unlikely subtitles. 

They can also create a fan tribute (positive commentary) or ridicule a cultural object (negative commentary).

They can also solicit critique by others who provide the commentary or add to it.

What you need to know here is that video makers have the right to use as much of the original work as they need to, in order to put it under some kind of scrutiny.

Note that comment and critique are at the very core of the Fair use doctrine and it acts as a safeguard for freedom of expression.

The limitation with this is that the use of it should not be so extensive that it deviates from functioning as a critique and becomes instead, in a subtle way of satisfying the audience’s taste for the material being quoted or used.

2. Using Copyright-Protected Material For Illustration Or Example

Video makers sometimes quote copyrighted materials not because they want to comment on it, but because it perfectly illustrates a point or backs an argument.

This sort of quotation generally is considered fair use and it is widely recognized as that in other creative communities. 

The possibility of a quote entertaining and engaging an audience as well as illustrating the video maker’s argument does not take anything away from the claim of fair use.

As said before, it’s fair when video makers are presenting the original material to harness a new purpose, this kind of use is creating new value and is considered fair play.

When doing this, however, remember to properly attribute original material as this will often reduce the likelihood of legal action or complaints.

Fair Use On YouTube

3. Recording Copyright-Protected Material (Accidentally Or Incidentally)

This is something video content creators do often; recording copyright sounds and images when they are recording sequences for instance.

An example is a YouTuber filming a wedding dance with a copyrighted song playing in the background. 

The copyrighted material in this case is an audio-visual found object.

To eliminate this, you will have to either avoid it, make alterations, or falsify reality.

However, fair use protects the creative choice of the video makers, so where you capture a sound or image incidentally and without pre-planning, it’s permissible to use it to a reasonable extent.

4. Reposting, Reproducing, Or Quoting To Memorialize, Preserve Or Rescue An Experience, An Event, Or A Cultural Phenomenon

This simply refers to copyright-protected materials that are repurposed. 

An example is when someone posts a video for instance that in their opinion has been taken out of circulation unjustly.

This does not impair the legitimate market for the original work.

Note, however, that the fair use limit is reached when the content is reproduced out of proportion to the purpose of the documentation, or in the case where the material is readily available from authorized sources.

5. Restoring, Copying, And Recirculating A Work For Purposes Of Launching A Discussion

Sometimes, online video content creators, including YouTubers, copy and post-work or part of it because they love it or hate it, or simply find it suitable to use an example of something they love or hate.

This kind of use can be held in the context of freedom of expression and the importance of fair use can be demonstrated to maintain this freedom.

However, the purpose of copying and posting has to be clear.

Does Fair Use Apply To YouTube?

Fair Use On YouTube

By now, you really want to know if fair use applies to YouTube, don’t you?

The answer is yes, it does. 

You don’t want to be misled. 

Crediting the copyright owner, adding original content to someone else’s work, or posting a disclaimer like “no infringement intended” does not automatically make it fair use.

Any use that tries to substitute the original work, instead of criticizing it or commenting on it, is likely to not be considered as fair use.

If you upload a video content containing copyrighted content, and you do this without taking permission from the copyright owner, you could end up with a Content ID Claim

Guess what this claim does? 

It will keep you from monetizing the video, even if you use just a few seconds of it.

Systems like Content ID are automated and as such cannot decide fair use because it’s a subjective decision only courts can make.

Even though YouTube cannot exactly mediate copyright disputes or decide on fair use, it can still exist on YouTube.

If you believe though, that your video falls under fair use, you can defend your position through the Content ID dispute process.

This decision should not be taken lightly, however.

In a case where the video poster and the copyright claimant try to monetize the video under dispute, YouTube still allows the video to be monetized until the dispute is resolved

Then it the accrued earnings to the appropriate party.

So, what options can you take to resolve claims outside the dispute process?

Well, the easiest way to deal with content ID claims to avoid them in the first place.

Don’t use copyrighted material unless it’s relevant to your video.

You can check out the YouTube Audio Library for music that is free to use in your videos.

If you do decide to choose music from other Royalty-free or licensing sites, be sure you read the terms and conditions given carefully. 

Don’t assume.

If you get a content ID claim for music that is not essential to your YouTube video, you can remove it or swap it with copyright-safe tracks from the YouTube audio library.

Can I Use 30 Seconds Of Copyrighted Music On YouTube?

Fair Use On YouTube

Well, there is no length that is set generally; however, there are some basic rules that you should not be unaware of. 

Here we go:

  • If you do use all of the original material or a good part of it, that is a copyright violation; that would mean using an extract of 20 seconds from a one-minute video would be hard to defend as fair use.
  • If you just collect material and publish it, that too, is a copyright violation, no matter how short the use is.
  • You need to create some value without using the extracted material.
  • The material you show must be directly related to your content, otherwise, it will not be regarded as fair use.

All these basic rules are a pointer to the fact that many videos on YouTube violate copyright. 

A quick disclaimer here: following all the rules as stated above does not mean the copyright owner cannot take you to court. 

It just means that following these rules can give you a higher chance to win a “fair use” case if you do get into one.


This information is useful if you want to stay out of trouble and grow your career as a YouTube video content creator.

We do hope you found this article useful. 

Let us know in the comment section.

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