How To Legally Use Copyrighted Music on YouTube

by | Oct 16, 2019 | Copyrights, Social Media

When it comes to using music on YouTube and social media, the general rule is this: If you didn’t create it, then you can’t use it…unless you have permission in some form or another, which I will touch on later.

Common Objections

There are a lot of objections that I hear when I tell people about this rule.

“But Aiden, I credited the artist!”

It doesn’t matter if you credited the artist. You can’t use it.

“But Aiden, I told everyone in the comments that I didn’t own the rights to the song.”

It doesn’t matter if you acknowledge you don’t have the rights to use the song. You still don’t, what? Have the right to use the song. All you’ve done now is just acknowledge that. Which can actually hurt you more than help.

“But Aiden, I only used like 10 seconds of the song. I read on the internet that if you use 10 seconds or less that’s it’s fine.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s just a short clip. 10 seconds or 30 seconds. You still can’t use it.

The only way to legally use music on YouTube is to get permission from the copyright holder (or whoever does actually “own the rights” to the song). If you improperly use copyrighted music on Youtube or other social media,  your video can get taken down, your account can be suspended or removed, and you could have other issues with the artist or copyright holder.

So it’s not like this is a little issue. 3 seconds of a song can turn into years of hurt.

Let’s talk about that permission. Permission to use music on YouTube or other copyrighted works on social media can come in a few different forms:

Public Domain

The first is to use music in the public domain. Songs in the public domain are no longer copyrighted and, for the most part, they are free to use. BUT, it’s really important to remember that public domain doesn’t apply to the song itself; it applies to the recording of the song.  So while a particular recording of a song may be in the public domain, other recordings and covers of that song may not be in the public domain.

Ask for Permission

Just ask for it. Ask for permission to use the song, and but sure to get it in writing. If you found a song from an underground artist and you really want to feature their music in your video, reach out to the artist. Ask them if you can use that song in this video. Keep in mind the different ways you may ultimately end up using that song and your video. You may be using the song on one video on Youtube, but you may also share that video to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or you may take clips and repurpose them, or send the video to your newsletter subscribers. Now that artist’s song is not being used on just YouTube.

Get a License

A license is really just a fancy word for “permission.” You can buy licensed music from tons of different sources, and there are lots of websites that offer royalty-free licenses.  A few I have used are incompetech and ccmixter. YouTube’s audio library has a lot of royalty-free music available, too. And some video editing software comes with royalty-free stock music and sound effects, as well. We use Filmora by Wondershare behind the scenes here at 180 Law Co.!

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is another form of “license.” Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a globally-accessible public commons of knowledge and culture. There are 3 types of Creative Commons licensing attribute requirements, and it’s important to pay attention to the different requirements for each license type.

Be alert

With any of these licenses, it’s important to pay attention. Pay attention to what is exactly required under the license and what you’re allowed to do under the license, because those terms may vary greatly between licenses. Some you may not have to give any kind of credit or attribution; you can just use it and don’t have to say another word. Often you do have to credit the artist or the copyright holder, or link to the copyright license. So you want to be aware of the restrictions and requirements for the license itself.

Fair use

The fair use doctrine permits occasional unlicensed use of copyrighted work in certain situations. It’s a bit complex and I won’t go too into detail, but certain types of use fall under the fair use doctrine. Typically, fair use is going to apply to commentary or criticism, news reporting, and educational use.


The BIG BUT here is that fair use is a defense to copyright infringement. This means you don’t get to say “fair use” until someone has said, “you’re infringing.” So in a lot of instances, you have received the cease and desist letter, you’ve already consulted an attorney, maybe a hearing or negotiation meeting has already been scheduled.  You can shout “FAIR USE” from the rooftops all day, but if the other party disagrees with you, you’ll still have to go through the process to find out if the legal overlords consider it to be fair use. So although fair use may be a legit way to use copyrighted works without a license, I strongly discourage you from relying on fair use.

Need more help figuring out how to use music on social media? Contact Denver small business and intellectual property attorney Aiden Durham to get started.




You may

Also like

Copyrights for Blogs and Social Media Posts

Copyrights for Blogs and Social Media Posts

The United States Copyright Office recently introduced a new option for copyright registration of online written content such as blogs and social media posts. Under the new Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works application (also known as GRTX), an...

read more
Is My Logo A Trademark or Copyright?

Is My Logo A Trademark or Copyright?

Having a logo for your business is an important element of your business. And protecting your logo with a registered trademark is equally important. In the last episode of All Up In Yo' Business, we discussed a few things that people commonly think are trademarks but...

read more