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FAQ: Copyright and Social Media

August 16, 2019
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Ever considered you might be breaking the law? You might have already done so. It’s a fair bet that at least once in your life you have used some popular song in your YouTube video. It’s also quite likely that, by doing so, you have committed copyright infringement. Depending on the type of intellectual property you have used, whether you made a profit from it, and the copyright owner, the consequences may range from simply getting your account blocked to thousands of dollars in penalties. On the positive side, your creative work is also protected. That means you can take legal steps to claim compensation from anyone who publishes your content without your consent. 

Although social networks have long been exempt from common copyright law regulations, these days the internet is getting legal protections, too. So, it’s always worth following the rules, even when it comes to posting on your personal account, let alone your business channel. 

Here’s our FAQ for keeping you and your content safe. 

Q: What is copyrighted content?

A: Every original piece of intellectual property is subject to copyright. Audiovisual materials such as movies, TV shows, or any videos you see out there online. Music, podcasts, and sound effects. Photographs, infographics, drawings, and even advertisements. Every written work, including those little texts you read under Instagram posts. The only definition that the subject of copyright has to fit is that it must be presented in a physical medium and produced as a result of someone’s creative work. 

Q: How can I use a popular song or a film soundtrack in my video?

A: YouTube has some built-in tools that enable you to use selected copyright-protected compositions in your videos. However, these tools are less useful if your work requires complex editing. The only way to stay on the safe side is to request permission from the copyright owner. Failing to do so may result in losing your video or even your YouTube account. The same applies to Instagram and other social network platforms. 

Q: What sort of music can I use in my videos?

A: You can use any music or sound effects as long as you have obtained legal consent from the copyright owner. Alternatively, there is a huge amount of copyright-free music out there. There are some free stock sites as well as commercial databases with a reasonable membership fee. Look for items subject to Creative Commons licenses and be aware that there are different types of public domain licenses, each with different restrictions. To get started, check out our article Top Ten Free Music Download Sites.

Q: Can I use extracts from films, online videos, or cartoons in my work?

A: As long as you have legal consent from the copyright owner, you are fine. Otherwise, it depends on the purpose of your work. The general rule is that the original owner should not lose income, so you normally do have to clear the rights for any commercial work you produce. For non-commercial use, you might get away with justifying your borrowed content as Fair use. Basically, this means that, for most non-commercial or non-profit educational purposes, you can use a certain amount of someone else’s creative work without the author’s permission. Some commercial products can also make use of a fair use defense: for example, viral video mashups help the original owners promote their work and therefore serve their interests. Bear in mind that fair use is a tricky field in a legal sense, as there is no clear set of rules explaining it. Applying for fair use may or may not protect you from being sued, so always consider the risk beforehand. 

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Q: And what about still pictures?

A: Same rules apply to still pictures. Use public domain items to avoid trouble, opt for paid stock databases or get in touch directly with the copyright owners. Remember that just because someone put his or her picture up on a social network page doesn’t make it less of intellectual property – even if it is just a selfie. 

Q: What are the specifics of different social network policies regarding copyright?

A: Most popular platforms have similar algorithms. If you breach copyright on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, quite often you will find your work deleted. Repeatedly violating the law may result in losing your account or channel.

Q: How can I avoid being blocked on YouTube?

A: Remember that whenever you post your work, the algorithms let copyright owners know if you have used any of their intellectual property. What happens next is up to them. Your video may be muted or removed completely, or your entire channel may be blocked. Therefore, always clear rights for any content that you don’t own or stick to copyright-free material. 

Q: What can I do if my content has been stolen?

A: First, take screenshots to gather the evidence. Then, get in touch with the page owner. Quite often a polite note can effectively resolve the problem. If the publisher is reluctant to take down the content or compensate you financially, contact the support team for the platform or get in touch with the website hosting service. By reporting stolen content, you are likely to get it removed. However, if it is material compensation that you are looking to claim, the issue has to be taken to the courts. Again, e-mailing your request to the troublemaker before taking legal steps might help avoid the fuss. Lawsuits over copyright infringement are difficult to win and may eventually cost you more than they are worth, so be sure to consult a lawyer before taking the conflict to court. 

To put it simply, there are four rules you must follow to avoid getting into copyright difficulties:

  1. Whenever possible, opt for Creative Commons licensed items.
  2. Always try to get official permission from the owner of the content.
  3. Be ready to take your work down if it violates someone’s copyright.
  4. Know your rights and don’t be afraid to protect your own content legally.

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