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.

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.

What does “copyrighted” even mean?

how to legally use copyrighted music on youtube

Before we start, let’s make sure we understand what a copyrighted song is. Technically, it’s every song that was ever written, including the ones that never got recorded. That’s right, EVERY song is copyrighted, automatically.

What does that mean? It means that creative works are always protected under the law, whether the writers are famous rock stars or bedroom hobbyists, and regardless of whether they’ve registered it. That protection means that no one can use that creative work (a song, in this case) for any purpose without permission.

Sadly, that means you’re not supposed to use it in your YouTube video without asking and in most cases, once you ask you’ll have to pay. If that song happens to be by your roommate, then knock on their door and ask, buy them a taco or whatever else they ask for, and you’re golden. It really is that simple when boiled down.

How music licensing works – is it really that simple?

Yes and no. The concept of licensing is indeed 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, there are several types of payment. Earlier, when 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.


That’s not the end of the story. There’s also a little thing called a royalty, and that’s a quagmire of complexity too big to dive into here. Suffice it to say that 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.

By this point, you may be tempted to throw caution to the wind and just use the song. Maybe nobody will notice! Well…

Content ID

Enter YouTube Content ID. To put it simply, when recordings are registered with content ID, their digital fingerprint is put into a database. If you upload stock music for YouTube that’s been registered in this database, YouTube will automatically flag your video for using “copyrighted content”.

YouTube Content ID

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

So, throwing caution to the wind isn’t an option, and being above board is getting to be a lot of work. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easier way?

Don’t stress, get Lickd

It turns out, there is an easier way. There’s a kind of company called, you guessed it, a licensing company. You happen to be reading this on one now. These companies (our company) negotiate with artists and labels ahead of time so you don’t have to. We remove the content ID obstacle and have made searching for the perfect track as simple as possible. Our whole vision is to build a world where there are no barriers to creating the best online video content. We make it affordable and easy to get music for content creators, and you do not have to send us a taco.

Lickd platform

So by all means, do your best to understand how music licensing works, and why it’s important. After all, musicians are creators too. But if you’re ready to streamline this crucial part of your process, go ahead and browse our catalog of over 1 Million totally claims-free songs now!

Want to learn more about copyright and YouTube? Read our guide on how to legally use copyrighted music on youtube.