Copyright and Fair Use seem to be hot topics for YouTubers. If you have a problem monetizing, chances is that it has to do with copyright, even if you don’t think you violated copyright in your videos. It can also be a surprise to find that one of your videos has been claimed by someone else because of a copyright infringement. It can be frustrating, and it’s not easy to find practical advice on how to correct copyright violations.

The number one cause of copyright infringement on YouTube is music. Even if the song is playing in the background while you were filming and you didn’t intend it to be there, that’s an infringement. If you cover a song that is under copyright, that is also an infringement. For gamers, you can record the game playing, but if the music from the game is in your video, that is also an infringement.

One exception to this is making a parody of a copyrighted song or video. Keep in mind though, that just changing a few lines isn’t enough. It has to contrast enough with the original song or video that it is clearly new intellectual property.

A lot of people think that it’s okay to use classical music, but you have to be careful with that as well. Even if the music is now public domain, the recording of the performance is not. So unless you are the one who recorded that public domain piece of music, you’re still in violation. Also be careful, because a lot of what people think is classical music is still under copyright. To be sure, you have to check the date. Here’s a handy chart:

Source: Copyright Law of the United States of America

If you need music for your videos, you either need permission from the copyright holder*, or you can use Creative Commons music. Creative Commons is music that has been composed, performed, and recorded for people to use. The website that we like to recommend is There are a few ways you can use it:

  1. Generally, if you give credit to the creator, you can use it for free. To credit it properly, you need to include the name of the author, the title, the company/website you got it from, the type of license you have permission under, and it can be handy to include a link to the license description.
  2. You can purchase a No Attribution license, which allows you to use the music without crediting the author for projects the author allows.
  3. You can purchase the piece to use royalty-free (you don’t have to credit the author, and they can’t claim further money from you in the future).

Of course, if you happen to be a musician or artistic, you can always compose and perform your own music. But here’s the catch: You STILL have to credit it properly. Just use your own name and title when you put the credit in the description. If you don’t do this, how are the copyright watchdogs supposed to know it’s yours?

Keep in mind that while I wrote about music, this also holds true for video clips, pictures, quotes from written works, basically anything that was created. To see the actual legalese that spells this all out, check out the Copyright Law of the United States of America. Remember, if you live outside of the United States to check with your country’s copyright laws, as they do differ from country to country.

*A quick note about the copyright holder; even if you’re friends with a recording artist, chances are that the copyright to their music is held by their label, and not by them, so you need written permission from the label to use that music.