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Embedding YouTube – Will Copyrights Get Me?

YouTube is an extremely popular media.  According to their own statements, they receive over 1 billion views per month.  To keep their customer-base informed and engaged, businesses may choose to add YouTube videos in blog, Twitter or Facebook posts.  Is this okay?  Should you worry about copyrights?  How exactly does this work?

This article explores why this is okay, but simply-stated, embedding is an encouraged activity.  So long as you follow the Terms of Service, you may use YouTube videos on your own website.  YouTube has a process for handling copyright issues, so you don’t need a process to handle copyright issues for embedded videos.  But, you should be aware that videos can be taken down for copyright violations.  Avoid illegitimate-looking channels.  That way you won’t end up with a removed-content notification and the unhappy-copyright box on your website.copyright-index-whathappened

The Technical Side of YouTube Embedding

When you “embed” a YouTube video utilizing the tools on the YouTube website, you create a active link back to YouTube.  The video is not hosted by you, and can be actively updated, modified or removed by the content owner.  YouTube can track views and collect statistical data on the video via your website.  The content owner benefits from those views via advertising revenue (if they elected to have ad shown).  Basically, by embedding a YouTube video, you’ve provided an additional window to the YouTube service.

License Granted to YouTube by Owner/Uploader

Activities on YouTube are governed by their Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, and Community Guidelines.  These documents can be updated by YouTube at any time, and this article discusses only the Terms of Service as of August 1, 2013.  In the Terms of Service, content providers grant a license to YouTube (paragraph shown below) to distribute the video.  It also grants the right to “sublicense,” which enables YouTube to grant others the ability to “distribute” the video via the embed feature.

License to YouTube

License Granted by YouTube to You (the Person Embedding the Video)

So, now that we’ve reviewed the license from the video creator, we need to review the license to you from YouTube.  Those wishing to embed videos should read the entirety of the Terms of Service, but I’ve included the most relevant section below.


In the situation where you are using a website to promote your business, and wish to embed videos merely to educate or entertain your customers, your use is authorized under the Terms of Service.  Of course, you should always put posts into context, make it clear when a third party is not affiliated with you or your company and be generally upfront and transparent in your posts.

Prohibited activities are those which interfere with YouTube’s core business (advertising) and as such, you cannot sell access to YouTube videos, or place your advertisements on top of or within YouTube videos.  You also cannot create an ad-enabled website utilizing YouTube video to drive visits, unless there is other non-YouTube material which would drive your ad-sales.  Basically, advertising is YouTube’s sandbox.  Don’t play in it with YouTube’s toys (video content).

Ownership – Briefly

Because we’ve already talked about copyright (and trademark) basics, I won’t rehash them here.  Sufficed to say, only the rightful holders of the video’s copyright may upload the video.  If you are uploading material, take great pains to make sure that you are either the owner or have the owner’s permission.  Uploading material does not transfer ownership of the material or the copyright.  Owners may contact YouTube to assert a claim against any other party who has uploaded a video containing their material without permission (so long as it isn’t permitted by transformative or fair-use doctrines.)  Below is an embedded video from YouTube discussing copyright, challenges and some of their protection mechanisms.

Additional Resources

Copyright Basics

YouTube Copyright Center

YouTube Policy Center


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© 2013 The Law Offices of Jenny Allenbaugh, PLLC
Principal office in Austin, Texas



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