Have you ever wondered why you can only find “remixes” of your favorite songs on YouTube? Or why you’ll occasionally click on a YouTube video, perhaps a movie trailor or the new episode of your favorite TV sitcom, only to find that the “video has been removed because it violated YouTube’s Terms of Service”? Thanks to copyright laws, all content on Youtube is subject to removal should issues of ownership arise. Which means that content can be terminated, as well as the account which hosts it…permanently. And sometimes without warning. But YouTube isn’t really out to get anyone, or punish others from creating new material from what’s already out there.
So then what’s up with all of the song remixes on YouTube? How is that legal?
Sometimes I’m really jonesing for a new song, only to be let down that the cinematic version (aka the music video cut with long intros and outros) is the only version available to listen to on YouTube. Which is a huge let down, especially if you’re trying to put together a playlist for a party. (Sidenote: If you are trying to put together a playlist for a party, may I suggest using Spotify Premium or Soundcloud to do so…less hassle is involved). Alternates to the song, a “Lyrics to ___” version, for example, may be available to watch/listen to, but the original music track is often adjusted so that it’s sound is faster or slower, or set in a lower or higher pitch. And while this is very annoying for those of us just tryna jam to our favorite tunes on YouTube, these remixed (using the word ‘remixed’ loosely here) versions are usually the only way users are able to getting around copyright infringements, by adjusting another artist’s music just-so, so that if their content gets flagged, the user can try and argue that their uploaded content isn’t copyrighted because its just different enough than the original version. And also why, outside of Vevo, you’re sometimes stuck listening to–if you’re really desperate–something similar to the Alvin & The Chipmunks’ rendition of the latest Top 40 wonder on YouTube.
So, while remixes of original content are allowed on the YouTube, this doesn’t always mean you’re safe to upload someone else’s stuff just because you changed the way it sounds or looks a little bit. The safest, most ethical bet would be to steer clear of uploading your bootleg copy of Halloweentown to YouTube. Consequences of ignoring this advice can range from copyright infringement lawsuits to account termination and bans from the site in the future.
But then how can other users post sports highlight reels or other types of video compilations?
This is where it can get a little more tricky–and there isn’t that much information out there about what is okay and what isn’t–but to the best of my ability, it seems like posting a few seconds-long video to YouTube of a TV show, movie, or song or could fly under Fair Use policies. In other words, if you’re not intending to make a profit off of the content and only use a portion of it, you should be okay and your content probably won’t get taken down. But since YouTube starts to pay users after their content hits a certain number of views, or if the account has lots of subscribers, via advertisements, Fair Use may not apply any longer since the user would be making a profit from their content, which is why/how the content could eventually come to be flagged and removed should it go viral.
For more information on YouTube Terms of Service, including more information on copyright and Fair Use policies check out this TL;DR link to read about exactly what YouTube has to say about the consequences of violating the user agreement.