Fair Use on YouTube: A Comprehensive Guide

Jake Cass
Published on May 27, 2023

Understanding Fair Use

In the realm of digital media and content creation, there’s a common term you may come across called ‘Fair Use.’ Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. But what does this mean in the context of YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing platform?

Fair use is an exception to the rights granted by copyright law. It allows the use of copyrighted material without permission from the owner under specific conditions. In the United States, fair use is determined through an evaluation of four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use: This includes whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. Transformative uses that add new meaning, message, or expression to the original work are more likely to be considered fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work: The use of factual, non-fictional works is more likely to be considered fair use than the use of highly creative works.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: Using smaller portions of a work or parts that are not the heart of the work is more likely to be considered fair use.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work: If the use could harm the original work by acting as a direct market substitute, it’s less likely to be considered fair use.

It’s important to note that these factors are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. The interpretation of fair use is often subjective and depends on the specific facts of a case. Consequently, what one person considers fair use, another might see as copyright infringement.

Fair Use and YouTube: Content ID Claims

YouTube has implemented a system called Content ID to manage copyright concerns. This system scans uploaded videos against a database of files submitted by copyright owners. If a match is found, the copyright owner can choose to block, monetize, or track the video.

However, situations can arise where a video that a creator believes is fair use receives a Content ID claim. In these cases, the creator has the right to dispute the claim if they believe it was made in error or if they believe their use of the copyrighted material falls under fair use. The dispute process involves filling out a form in which the creator provides an explanation of why they believe the claim is invalid.

The Burden of Proof in Fair Use Disputes

Interestingly, in a dispute over a Content ID claim, the burden of proof falls on the person making the fair use claim. This means that the creator who used the copyrighted content must make a compelling argument that their use of the material falls under fair use.

The reason for this is rooted in the nature of fair use itself. Since fair use is an exception to the rights granted by copyright law, it is viewed as a defense to copyright infringement rather than a right in itself. Therefore, the person invoking fair use must provide evidence supporting their claim.

When disputing a Content ID claim, creators are asked to explain why their use of the copyrighted content is fair. This requires a clear understanding of the four factors of fair use, and a solid argument demonstrating how their use aligns with these factors. The copyright owner then reviews this information and decides whether to uphold or release the claim.

In summary, fair use on YouTube is a complex issue. It requires a careful balance between respecting the rights of copyright owners and promoting creative expression. By understanding the principles of fair use and the procedures for disputing Content ID claims, creators can better navigate this challenging terrain.

Navigating Fair Use Disputes on YouTube

If a dispute arises regarding a Content ID claim and the creator believes that the video falls under the fair use exception, there are steps that can be taken to resolve the issue.

  1. Dispute the claim: The first step a creator can take is to dispute the claim directly on YouTube. When a dispute is filed, the copyright owner is notified and has 30 days to respond. The copyright owner can either release the claim or uphold it.
  2. Appeal the decision: If the copyright owner upholds the claim, the creator can then appeal the decision. This involves submitting additional information explaining why the use of the copyrighted material is fair use. At this point, the copyright owner has two choices: to release the claim or to request that YouTube remove the video.
  3. Submit a counter-notification: If the copyright owner requests that the video be removed, the creator will receive a copyright strike. YouTube operates on a three-strike policy, where receiving three strikes can result in the termination of the creator’s channel. However, the creator can submit a counter-notification. If the copyright owner does not take legal action within 14 business days, the video may be reinstated, and the copyright strike removed.

It’s worth noting that these steps should be taken with careful consideration. The dispute process should not be used unless the creator is confident that they have a valid fair use claim. Making false claims can lead to penalties, including the potential termination of the YouTube channel.

The Role of Legal Counsel

Given the subjective nature of fair use and the potential for severe penalties in the event of a false claim, creators may find it beneficial to seek legal advice when dealing with Content ID claims. Legal professionals can provide guidance on whether a particular use of copyrighted material may be considered fair use and can help navigate the dispute process. Remember, the information provided in this article is for educational purposes and should not replace professional legal advice.


Fair use is a crucial concept in YouTube and digital content creation. It allows creators to use copyrighted material under specific circumstances, fostering creativity and expression. However, understanding and navigating the complexities of fair use can be challenging.

If you’re a creator on YouTube, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the principles of fair use and understand the steps to take if you receive a Content ID claim. Remember, the burden of proof lies with the person making the fair use claim, so being able to articulate why your use of copyrighted material is fair is critical. While the process can be complex, with careful consideration and possibly professional legal advice, creators can confidently navigate the terrain of fair use on YouTube.

Published by:
Jake Cass
Co-Founder at Aegis