How to legally use copyrighted music on YouTube

how to legally use copyrighted music on YouTube

It’s 2AM. You’ve finally figured out the edit on your brand-new YouTube post, and boy is this one going to kill when you go public. There’s only one problem. You’ve been editing to your favorite song in the world and it works perfectly, but you don’t have the rights to it. Sure, you could just throw it on there and hope for the best, but this video could really go viral, and getting slapped with a claim and missing out on all that AdSense revenue is a no-go. Sadly, these are all common creator gripes and it may feel like you can’t catch a break. You’re a content creator for f*cks sake, not a music lawyer.

Now you’re wondering how to legally use copyrighted music on YouTube. A little Googling and you’ve landed here. We’d love to help! So, let’s get into that very question.


Music copyright law – for beginners

In the music industry, there are basic rules in place to protect the work of musicians, composers and artists alike. Copyright law protects the unique creative works of musicians and gives them the right to ask for payment in exchange for use of their work.

Once an artist records a song in a “tangible medium”, for example, writing it down or digitally recording the track, they automatically have a loose form of copyright protection. For extra cover, artists can register their work with their local legal service e.g. the U.S. Copyright Office. This gives them a range of exclusive rights, including demanding payment for use of the song on places like YouTube, film or even just sampling.

In 2018, the Music Modernization Act was passed into law. This law makes it easier for rights holders to get paid when someone streams their work online. So, just like you enjoy getting paid for the content you shoot, musicians now have an easier time getting paid for the music they make. This works both ways. Sure, it may make it more difficult for you to find the music you want for your YouTube videos, but it’ll also protect the content you create from being used without your permission.

With the law on musicians’ side, it’s more important than ever to know how copyright works on YouTube.

Copyright-free music

how to legally use copyrighted music on YouTube

When someone creates a piece of music, they automatically own the rights to it. It’s similar to photo and video footage, you can’t just run around using everyone’s stuff for free expecting there to be no unforeseeable problems.

On YouTube and other video platforms, to avoid copyright claims on the music you use in your videos, you must pay for permission to use the work from the copyright owner. Tracking down the copyright owner can be a long and disappointing process. And, if the copyright owner is a huge label or artist, you’ll have to pay through the nose to use the track. Your other option is to use music from artists who have waived their copyright altogether. Though an easier option, the quality of this music probably won’t be as good and you’ll be much more limited in the tracks you can choose for your videos.

Music copyright can be tricky and it’s an area that could definitely be made easier for Creators like you who just want to make awesome content. So, to make things simpler, if you get music for YouTube videos from Lickd, there’s no need to worry about copyright claims. Pay a small fee to download famous tracks and give your videos the soundtrack you’ve always dreamed of. Each track has permissions that are easy to navigate and understand so you know exactly which music you can use without getting copyright claims.

What are music royalties?

Royalties were created as a means of compensating artists and composers for their craft and are usually paid every time their work is used. So, every time you hear a song on the radio, a small fee is paid to the creators involved.

One thing you must understand about royalty payments is that they are legally binding. This means that if you don’t provide payment to the legal owner of the work you are committing an illegal offence.

If you’re broadcasting, performing, or otherwise putting a piece of music out there that’s not yours, you could be subject to another fee, charged and collected by a performing rights organization (PRO).

These organizations collect fees for various “performances” like radio broadcasts, television uses, live performances and sometimes YouTube use. These fee structures are partly dictated by law and partly set by the PROs.

If that’s not complicated enough, other companies collect royalties from digital usage such as satellite radio, Spotify, Deezer, and so on. And yes, that could include your video too.

When you use Lickd to access the best audio library of songs for YouTube, your royalty fees are wrapped up with your licensing fees, so it’s not something you have to worry about. The truth is though, that if you use songs from another source you may not be covered and you could find yourself in hot water pretty quickly.

How copyright works on YouTube

how copyright works on YouTube

YouTube has a number of music policies in place to help with tackling copyright infringement on the platform. To enforce these copyright policies they have two systems in place. The first is the automated Content ID system and the other is the more manual strike system.

What’s Content ID?

The automated Content ID copyright system that YouTube created scans all videos that are uploaded and compares the audio to their database of songs and tracks. When a video is flagged by Content ID, the copyright owner of the identified song(s) is given the chance to block the content, stop it being monetized, add their own ads to claim the revenue or have the video removed. They can even ban the video in certain countries.

In most cases, you can still post the video, but you can’t make money with it. If you happen to have permission from the owner of the song, you’ll have to file a dispute with YouTube, which can be tricky and time-consuming.

When you license a song through Lickd, Content ID will still identify the track(s) you’ve used but Lickd’s proprietary software, VOUCH, will step in and protect you from any claims. Lickd’s VOUCH technology works alongside Content ID and was developed with YouTube, so you’ll never have to worry about copyright claims again.

If you’ve repeatedly received copyright claims in the past, the manual strike system can be less forgiving. Lickd licenses cannot be added to old videos that have already received copyright claims so if you have consistently used music without a license you may need to go through an appeal process.

This is why it’s so important to make sure you have a music license before you add a track to your next video.

Check out our YouTube music policies blog page.

How does music licensing work for YouTube?

use copyrighted music on YouTube legally

If you decide you want to try licensing music on your own, without the help of a quick and easy platform like Lickd, there’s some key things you’ll need to understand.

The concept of licensing is very simple. If you can get permission from the owner of a piece of music, that’s all you need.

In practice, though, the music industry is bursting at the seams with red tape and odd complications. Chances are, the song you want is represented by a record label or publisher. Or to be more accurate, the recording is owned by a label, and the song itself is owned by a publisher.

Now you’ve got to figure out who to ask for permission, and if it’s a big company – say, Warner Brothers – the price may be eye-watering.

That’s not all, either. When it comes to licensing music for YouTube, there are several types of payment. Say you talked your roommate into letting you use their song for a taco, you negotiated an up-front licensing fee.

That may not be all your roommate wants. Perhaps they also want a burrito every time your video is viewed. Or better yet, a percentage of all your ad revenue. That’s a back-end fee, and may or may not be asked for.

And you can guarantee that if you want to license a track from a huge company like Warner, you won’t be dealing in tacos or burritos. The licenses music companies negotiate can run into the tens of thousands.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easier, cheaper way? This is where Lickd comes into play, giving you access to famous songs for a fraction of the time and money you’d spend trying to license these tracks directly from the music industry. .

When it comes to YouTube, using music that you’re licensed to is important. You need to make sure that you’re licensed to use it and, for YouTube, you need to be aware of the previously mentioned Content ID system, music royalties and a few other key music copyright terms.

A few more music copyright things you need to be aware of 

  1. Creative Commons – This is a form of licensing that allows creators to share their work with the online community without charging a fee. However, certain conditions apply to make sure the original creator gets the credit they deserve.
    Learn more about Creative Commons here.
  2. Fair Use –  This is an exception to copyright protection that allows limited use of a copyrighted asset without the copyright holder’s permission. However, while this may appear simple, it’s not. Examples of fair use in copyright law may include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting and research.For instance, if you want to use a 10-second music clip as the introduction to your new vlog, this would most likely not be classed as fair use. On the other hand, if you use a 10-second piece of music for reviewing or critiquing purposes, this may be seen as fair use in copyright law. It’s best practice to assume you are not covered by fair use copyright, as there’s no guarantee you’ll be safe. You may still want to check with the copyright owners to make sure.

This may all seem like “a lot” but this knowledge has been shared to protect and support your journey as a content creator. Each regulation shared gives you insight into how to avoid having one of those “nightmare” moments we talked about at the beginning of this article. Plus, if you want to monetize your video or channel it’s all stuff you’ll need to know.

How to legally use copyrighted music on YouTube?

It feels like we’ve spent a long time telling you what you can’t do, but the truth is there are still worlds of possibilities, whether you’re looking for sound effects, full songs or simply background music for your video.

legally use copyrighted music on YouTube

Get real artists and real music claims-free for your YouTube Videos with Lickd

The absolute best way to get music for your YouTube channel is with Lickd. We can give you access to the very best music and tracks from some of the biggest artists in the world without the giant fees. Not only can you quickly search tracks from Billboard 100 artists but you’ll be able to get licenses to use their tracks on your videos at low prices, without having to spend hours getting permission directly from them.

Say goodbye to the same dull stock music tracks you’ll find in the YouTube audio library and don’t worry about a copyright claim. Use the song you want in your video and be confident you’ll be able to monetize your channel.

Other ways to get music for YouTube

While Lickd is the best solution for finding songs for your videos, there are a number of other options you should know about when you’re putting together your channel. These all come with their own risks and limitations.

Use music that is free within the public domain

Music copyright doesn’t actually last forever.

Eventually, some music ends up in what is called the “public domain.” In the United States, music usually enters the public domain around 50 – 75 years after the composer’s death – so don’t expect there to be any top forty tracks. Musicians can waive their right to their music and give it to the public for free, giving you the right to use their composition, song or asset however you want, (even commercially), but as you can imagine, this is very rare.

This isn’t a source of music you may want to rely on, but it could give you access to the odd gem free of charge.

Royalty-free music

Many people think that royalty-free music is free to use in their content. Unfortunately, that is not the case… exactly.

Royalty-free music actually refers to a type of music license that allows you to pay for a license one time, and use it as much as your little creative heart desires, (depending on the terms laid out beforehand).

Thus, royalty-free music falls under the copyright category since it isn’t exactly in the public domain either.

Sometimes you can find royalty music that is free, but how does that work? It’s not uncommon for artists and/or copyright holders to offer their work for free if you credit them in your content. This can be a great way to cross-pollinate one another’s audiences and create growth for each other. However, bear in mind that it’s not totally reliable long-term, nor does it give you full creative control.

Don’t stress, get Lickd

There is an easier way. Lickd negotiates with the music industry’s artists and labels to get you permission to use the music you know and love. We squash any copyright claims that rear their ugly little heads for you so you can focus on being a creator. Our whole vision is to build a world where there are no barriers to creating the best online video content. We offer music for content creators that you won’t get anywhere else, from top artists like Charlie Puth, Sia, Megan Thee Stallion and many more! Because you deserve better music!

You may also be interested in these YouTube-related guides

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