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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Rutman

Can I Use That YouTube Clip?

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Copyright in the digital era

Itzhak Perlman playing Beethoven [YouTube] - an embedded video of a copyrighted performance of an original work no longer under copyright

Is it copyright infringement to include an embedded youTube video in your online article? What about just linking to a video? Is permission required - and if so , from whom?


To check whether you can share a video in the case of YouTube, hit the 'share' button at the bottom right:

If the owner has enabled embedding, you'll reach a bit of code that you can put into your site's html:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

YouTube's Terms of Service:

The world according to youTube:

You ... hereby grant each user ... a non-exclusive license to access your Content ... and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service. [youTube TOS part 6C]

The Law

The law in general holds that there are four factors determining whether reproduction of a work without permission is 'fair use' or not (if you already have permission then the following is moot).

1. Transformation of the original

  • Its fair use if the original was changed in expression or meaning.

  • Likewise if new information, insights, aesthetics or understanding was added

  • Purposes such as scholarship, research, or education may also qualify as transformative uses because the work is the subject of review or commentary.

2. Type of copyrighted work

  • Scholarly reproduction intending to distribute factual information benefits the public. Thus, there is more leeway to copy from factual works (biographies or textbooks) than fictional works (plays, novels).

3. Portion taken

  • A smaller fraction of the original that is copied increases the likelihood that its fair use. However the importance of the section copied to the whole is taken into account - thus copying the essence of the work may not be fair use even if brief.

4. Damage

  • Whether your reproduction competes with the original or not, depriving the copyright owner of income may be considered infringement.

Providing a link to a work is likely not infringing copyright law because the work hasn't been reproduced, and likewise for links to web pages.

Using Infringing Material

Just because a video exists on YouTube (or music on soundcloud, or images on Pinterest, etc) does not necessarily mean that the material is public domain. A youTube video that is uploaded without the content owner's consent is infringing material. Linking or embedding that material can be viewed as a form of "distribution", and the copyright owner can file a copyright or DMCA report against you for showing his video without his permission.

If the copyright owner left the embedding option on, then they've given permission for embedding. If someone else uploaded a clip this doesn't apply and you may be held liable for copyright violation.

Playing it Safe

You should also attribute all images back to their original site (i.e. site you got the image from) and content creator/owner, and as a blanket proviso you can use a line like this:

This website contains copyrighted materials used under the fair use provisions of US copyright law.  Further use, duplication, or distribution is prohibited.

Preventing Others from Copying

To make it clear your work is copyrighted you can use the copyright symbol , like the following

Copyright © 2020, Rutman IP, All rights reserved

To explicitly prohibit reproduction you can use a line like this:

This Site is proprietary property of Rutman IP and all source code, databases, functionality, software, website designs, audio, video, text, photographs, and graphics on the Site (collectively, the “Content”) and the trademarks, service marks, and logos contained therein (the “Marks”) are owned or controlled by us or licensed to us, and are protected by copyright and trademark laws and various other intellectual property rights and unfair competition laws of the United States, foreign jurisdictions, and international conventions.

Explicitly Free-to-Use material - Creative Commons

The Creative Commons allows you to search for material that is explicitly put in the public domain (and also allows you to put material in the public domain.)

"Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges...We:

  • Provide Creative Commons licenses and public domain tools that give every person and organization in the world a free, simple, and standardized way to grant copyright permissions for creative and academic works; ensure proper attribution; and allow others to copy, distribute, and make use of those works" -

If you want more advice on what you can use - contact us

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