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Are YouTube Videos Copyrighted?

In our recent blog posts, we've been talking more and more about how using YouTube can help your company/brand. This week, we'll talk a little bit about what copyrights are and how they apply to your YouTube videos. It's probably not as complicated as you think! You've maybe heard that old saying that you can copyright something by mailing it to yourself... but don't head to the post office quite yet. Instead, keep reading for some YouTube Copyrights 101!

youtube video copyrights

1) Copyright Is a Form of Protection

You likely have a general understanding of copyrights... maybe the working definition that copyrighted things legally can't be used or replicated. That's definitely true, but where does that come from? What is an actual copyright? It's a form of protection granted by US law for original works in a "tangible medium of expression" (literary, musical, artistic, and other forms of creative expression--including videos!). This is distinct from patents (which cover inventions or "discoveries") and trademarks (which cover words, phrases, symbols, logos, etc. that identify the source of product/content). One of the really cool things about US copyrights is that you don't need to register to get one. The process is, quite literally: 1. Make your thing 2. POOF! You own the copyright to that thing. The only time you'll need to register with the US Copyright Office is if you need to file a lawsuit for infringement.

2) Videos Are Copyright-able

As mentioned, videos fall under the category of copyright-protected content. If you make a video personally, and it's 100% original, the copyright is yours outright. You may be wondering "what if I didn't make the content, but I commissioned it for my brand/business?" Don't worry--you can still get copyrights to the video via transfer of copyright ownership. This will grant you/your company the copyright to the brand content. While you don't need to register the transfer with the US Copyright Office, it does need to be documented in writing. Be sure to read contracts carefully, as not all videography companies have the same policies. Also, this might go without saying, but if you repost someone else's video on YouTube, no, you have not just unlocked copyrights to that video.

3) Copyrights Last the Life of the Author Plus 70 Years

Typically speaking, copyrights apply to a piece of content for the length of the creator's life plus 70 years. If multiple creators collaborated on the piece, the rule applies to the longest-living contributor. For any commissioned videos, the copyright lasts either 95 years since publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Think about the media you would want to include in your content--is it more than 70 years old? Probably not. It's critical not to use other people's work in your videos. Things like music, photos, video clips, and other images that are not specified as “royalty free” cannot be used without infringing on copyrights, so be careful with what you use in your work!


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