There’s nothing worse than making a great video and not being able to find great music to go with it. Ok… maybe there is something worse: spending time, energy, and money creating a killer video, only for the owner of the music copyright to get all the revenue, mute your video, or block your creation entirely!

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How music copyright works on YouTube
  • How YouTube detects copyrighted music
  • What happens when you infringe copyright on YouTube
  • How YouTubers try to avoid copyright the wrong way
  • How not to get copyrighted on YouTube the right way
  • How to use Lickd to make your next video soundtrack a success

How music copyright works on YouTube

To detect copyrighted music on YouTube, the music industry uses YouTube’s Content ID system. Imagine Content ID as a sophisticated version of Shazam, the popular music discovery app. Just like Shazam scans your environment for audio which matches its database, Content ID scans the audio of every video uploaded to YouTube. If any part of the video soundtrack matches audio files registered to Content ID by rightsholders within the music industry, a copyright claim can be triggered.

1. Artists register with Content ID

To register their song or video with Content ID, artists must own the exclusive copyrights. So, if one of your favorite singer-songwriters creates and records a song called Don’t Infringe Me No More, and they own the exclusive rights, they could register that song with Content ID. You may want to use the song in your video, but you’ll have to watch out for Content ID.

2. Content ID tracks down on copyright infringement

After an artist registers with Content ID, YouTube sends a virtual police force to search for unauthorized uses of registered content. So, if you create your own video with an unlicensed version of Don’t Infringe Me No More in the background, Content ID will hunt you down. YouTube’s algorithms are always becoming more advanced. Attempting to trick the software is harder than trying to talk your way out of getting grounded after coming home at 3 am with a dented car. It’s not happening.

3. YouTube applies copyright strikes

When you’re found to be in breach of copyright law, YouTube will apply copyright strikes to your account. These can limit a specific video or maybe even your whole account, so you really want to avoid it if you can.

What happens to your video if you infringe an artist’s copyright?

If you decide to ignore our sage advice and use copyrighted music without permission, prepare yourself for the consequences. Your video will be the equivalent of grounded. Indefinitely.

Once the content owner learns you’ve used their work without permission, they can choose to do any of the following:

  • Track the video’s viewership statistics without taking further action
  • Monetize your video by running advertisements (the copyright owner gets the money, not you)
  • Mute your video (your video will still be available, but no sound will play)
  • Block your video (your video becomes unavailable and YouTube may penalize your channel)

Alas, trying to trick almighty Google (YouTube’s owner) is rarely successful. Even if you get away with infringement temporarily, the internet gods will ultimately frown upon you, invalidating all of your hard work. Your best bet is to avoid copyright infringement in the first place.

Why does YouTube copyright music?

YouTube itself doesn’t copyright music, it enforces the copyright that artists have to their own songs. Just as YouTube Creators would seek payment if someone else wanted to use the content they’d created, artists want to be compensated when someone uses their work to elevate their own. For more information, we have a beginner’s guide to YouTube Music Policies.

How YouTubers try to avoid music copyright claims (badly)

Perhaps you consider yourself a smooth operator, able to pull off some fancy schemes to avoid paying for royalty-free music on YouTube. Here are some common less-than-wholesome strategies some people suggest for how to avoid copyright on YouTube.

1. Writing “I claim no rights to this song.”

How many times have you seen a YouTube Creator say they don’t have rights in the song they’re using? Many. How many times does it work? Zero.

Unfortunately, this strategy is useless. Think about it this way: If you walked into a shoe store, snagged a pair of nines, and walked out the door admitting you don’t claim any rights to the shoes, would that work? Absolutely not. Stealing is stealing, even if you admit to it.

2. Changing the speed/pitch of the music

With everyone and their mom becoming amateur music producers these days, you won’t have a hard time finding someone who can warp a copyrighted song so it sounds just a little different. The idea is that Content ID won’t be able to recognize the audio after you’ve changed it ever so slightly.

This bad-faith strategy suffers from various pitfalls. First, as a Creator, you’re blatantly disregarding the rights of other Creators. Shouldn’t you support the artists you admire? Second, warping original songs can distort audio quality and ruin the experience for your viewers. Third, if your video gets big enough, the original artist (or someone they know) will probably find your video.

3. Just playing a snippet of the track

Finally, as we’ve said before, trying to trick Content ID is a fool’s errand. The new algorithms can often recognize altered versions of original songs. And, if you’re thinking of ‘just playing two seconds’ of the track because supposedly that won’t trigger a claim, what’s the point? If you want to know how to avoid a copyright strike on YouTube, the answer is simple: pay for your music. Use the real deal (and more than two seconds of it).

How to not get copyrighted on YouTube (properly)

If you want to take the high road and create content correctly, you’ll need to pay to use artists’ music. It’s only fair. Let’s take a look at some of the options currently on the market.

1. Obtain music from royalty-free music sites

To help Creators with the problem of how to avoid a copyright claim on YouTube, some music libraries agree to license music on a royalty-free basis. These services let you pay a flat fee to use their music, and in return, you’re good to go. You don’t need to worry about copyright infringement. You don’t need to share revenue if you monetize your YouTube video.

While traditional royalty-free music libraries can be helpful, they often provide unknown background music. For example, PremiumBeat, owned by Shutterstock, offers a wide selection of user-submitted music. However, you’re unlikely to find any tracks from big-name artists. While stock music certainly serves a purpose, sometimes you want to differentiate your videos with a hit song. Otherwise, your videos will sound like everyone else’s.

2. Only use content you’ve created yourself

By far the safest way to avoid copyright infringement and strikes is to only use your own content on YouTube. If you only use music and videos that you’ve created yourself, you’ll not have to worry about copyright as you’ll be the owner and for your own content, you set the rules. It’s the simplest thing you can do, but if you’ve already put tons of effort into making unbelievably good content, we understand that you’ll probably want to polish it off with an iconic track.

3. Stick within the ‘fair use’ policy

You may well have heard the term ‘fair use’ being thrown about, and while it may sound like your free ticket to using whatever tracks you want in your content, it’s probably not. Fair use may allow you to add a track and not receive a claim, but it’s unlikely.

Generally, fair use won’t cover you if you’re making money from the content. Fair use may be ok if you were making a completely non-profit video that’s for educational purposes or similar, but as soon as you hit that monetize button, good luck claiming fair use.

It’s worth noting that every fair use case is judged differently, so what may pass as fair use for one person may not be judged as fair use for another.

4. Officially license your music

Officially licensing your music is by far the best way to add music to your content safely. When you pay for a music license from the copyright owner you’ll get access to some of the best songs from the biggest artists. Licensing copyrighted material helps you truly stand out from the crowd in a way that a simple royalty free library won’t.

Officially licensing a track may require you to contact the copyright owners directly, and that can take both time and money, plus there’s no real guarantee that they’ll reply. But, if you license music through a site like Lickd you’ll have access to copyrighted works, you won’t have to pay for any royalties, the costs of licensing tracks will stay low and you won’t have to contact the copyright owners yourself.

Use Lickd for chart-topping tracks and avoid copyright on YouTube

If you want to add a little extra spice to your content, a great song can make all the difference. Lickd is the holy grail for big-name music for content creators without worrying about copyright infringement on YouTube. Unlike standard music libraries, Lickd has popular music people will recognize in an instant, giving your video an extra boost. Get copyrighted music from the biggest artists at affordable prices and avoid breaching copyright law.

You can search Lickd by artist, theme, style, or even the type of video you’re producing. Pay by the song for ultimate flexibility.

Head over to Lickd.com to sign up and start creating high-quality content without fear of copyright infringement. Even better, get 25% off your first track!