Are YouTube Videos Public Domain?

Have you ever stumbled across a YouTube video and wondered, “Can I use this for my own project?” It’s a common question in today’s digital world where sharing is just a click away.

YouTube is not a free-for-all when it comes to using videos. Copyright protects creators and their work, while public domain gives us content that’s free to use. When you watch a video on YouTube, you’re allowed to enjoy it, show it to your friends, or even play it in the background at a party. But you can’t take that video and make it part of something else you’re making unless the creator says it’s okay.

In this article, we’re going to talk about a few key things to keep in mind when dealing with YouTube videos.

We’ll cover what copyright is, explain what public domain means, and guide you through the YouTube platform’s relation to copyright law.

Also, we’ll discuss how to spot videos that are in the public domain or come with licenses that allow you to use them, as well as the consequences you might face if you use YouTube content without the proper permission.

So sit tight, and let’s dive into the realm of online video content and the rules that govern it.

Key Takeaways

  • Copyright laws protect the creators of videos and other content on YouTube.
  • Public domain content is not covered by copyright and can be used by anyone.
  • YouTube has specific rules about how content can be used and shared.
  • You can identify public domain or licensed content on YouTube through various indicators.
  • Using YouTube videos without permission can lead to serious legal consequences.

Understanding Copyright

Copyright is a legal term that describes the rights that creators have over their original work. Think of it like a fence around someone’s house, keeping their stuff safe from being taken without permission.

For videos, this means that the people who make them have control over who can watch, share, or change their videos.

It’s a way to make sure that creators can get credit for their work and potentially make money from it. When you see a video on YouTube, it’s usually there because the person who made it said it was okay to be there.

But just because you can watch a video for free doesn’t mean you can take it and use it however you want. That’s where copyright law comes in to protect their hard work and creativity.

What is Public Domain?

Public domain is like a big, open field where everyone is welcome to come and play. It’s made up of all the creative work that isn’t owned by anyone anymore, either because the copyright has run out or because the creator decided to give it away.

Think of old books by writers like Shakespeare or Beethoven’s music; these are all free for anyone to use, recreate, and share without asking for permission or paying money.

When a video or any piece of creative work is in the public domain, it means there’s no fence around it anymore. So, if you find a YouTube video that’s in the public domain, that’s like finding a treasure that’s free for you to use in your projects, to make something new, or to share with others.

But it’s important to make sure it really is in the public domain before you use it, because mistakes can lead to trouble.

YouTube and Copyright

YouTube is a huge place where millions of videos live. It’s like a giant library or a video store that never closes. But, just like in a real library or store, every video has someone who made it, and they usually have copyright on it.

This means they’ve set rules about how their videos can be used. YouTube itself has rules too, to make sure people are fair to the video makers and don’t steal or copy their work without permission.

When you watch a video on YouTube, you’re allowed to enjoy it, show it to your friends, or even play it in the background at a party. But you can’t take that video and make it part of something else you’re making unless the creator says it’s okay.

This could be through a special license that lets you use the video in certain ways, like using a song for a dance cover. It’s important to follow these rules because they help keep YouTube a place where people can share their work safely and where everyone respects each other’s creations.

How to Identify Public Domain or Licensed Content on YouTube

Figuring out if a YouTube video is in the public domain or if it has a license that lets you use it can be as easy as playing detective. Here are some clues to look for:

  • Check the video description: Creators sometimes put info about the video’s copyright status or license right there for you to see.
  • Look for Creative Commons licenses: These are special permissions that let you use a video in certain ways. If a video has a Creative Commons license, YouTube will tell you in the description.
  • Use YouTube’s filter feature: When you’re searching for videos, you can filter your search to show only videos with Creative Commons licenses.
  • Visit the YouTube Audio Library: For music, YouTube has a whole section of songs that have licenses for you to use in your own videos.
  • Reach out to the creator: If you’re not sure, the best way is to ask the person who made the video. They can tell you what’s okay and what’s not.

Remember, even if a video is listed with a license that lets you use it, there might be rules about how you have to give credit or if you can make money from your project. Always read the fine print to stay out of trouble.

Consequences of Using YouTube Videos Without Permission

If you use someone’s YouTube video without asking or following the rules, it’s a bit like taking someone else’s bike and riding off without telling them. It can lead to some problems. The real owner might be upset, and there could be penalties. Here’s what could happen:

  • Getting your video taken down: If you used someone else’s clip in your own YouTube video without permission, they can ask YouTube to remove your video.
  • Copyright strikes: YouTube can give your account a strike if you’ve broken the rules. If you get too many strikes, YouTube can even stop you from uploading any more videos or it might close your account altogether.
  • Legal action: The owner of the video might decide to take you to court, which can cost you a lot of money and time.
  • Damage to your reputation: If people find out you’ve been using stuff without permission, they might not trust you or want to work with you in the future.

It’s always better to play it safe and only use videos that you have permission to use, either because they’re in the public domain or the creator has given you a license that fits what you want to do. Taking that extra step to make sure everything is okay can save you a lot of headache later on.


So there you have it. YouTube is not a free-for-all when it comes to using videos. Copyright protects creators and their work, while public domain gives us content that’s free to use. Navigating this online video world can be tricky, but remember to respect copyright laws, look out for public domain content, and understand the licenses under which videos are available.

Always check the video details or ask the creator directly before you use their work. This will help you avoid the consequences of using content without permission. By playing by the rules, you can enjoy creating and sharing your own stuff while keeping things fair for all the creative folks out there.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I use parts of a YouTube video for my own projects? Yes, you can use parts of a YouTube video if it’s in the public domain or if the creator has given a Creative Commons license that allows for such use. Always check the video’s details and make sure you follow the rules of the license.
  2. How can I tell if a YouTube video is in the public domain? You can often tell if a video is in the public domain if it’s explicitly stated in the video’s description or if the content is old enough that copyright has expired. However, it’s always a good idea to do a bit more research to be sure.
  3. What is a Creative Commons license on YouTube? A Creative Commons license on YouTube is a way for creators to give other people permission to use their work under certain conditions. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses, some allowing commercial use and some not, with various requirements for giving credit to the original creator.
  4. What should I do if I want to use a YouTube video but it’s not in the public domain? If the video is not in the public domain, you should contact the creator to ask for permission. If they agree, they can give you a license to use the video. Make sure to get the permission in writing, and follow any conditions they set.
  5. Are there any risks to using YouTube videos without proper permission? Yes, there are risks. You could have your content removed, receive a copyright strike, face legal action, or damage your reputation as someone who doesn’t respect others’ intellectual property. It’s always best to use videos you have the rights to, to avoid these potential issues.


  • Janine Swart

    Legal Advisor & Social Media Manager
    In 2011, I achieved admission as an attorney to the Western Cape High Court of South Africa, signaling the initiation of my fulfilling legal journey. Since then, my diverse professional roles immersed me in the intricacies of civil, labour, and criminal law, fostering a well-rounded understanding of various legal domains. Even before my formal admission, my exposure to criminal and labour law laid the foundation for my eventual specialization. Throughout my career, I have remained dedicated to the principles of justice, fairness, and equity, shaping my approach to legal practice. While I hold a special affinity for labour law, my openness to exploring positions in other legal fields underscores my eagerness to expand my expertise and contribute to the legal community in diverse capacities. Beyond my legal practice, I have found a unique intersection between law and modern communication through social media management for law firms. Leveraging my legal background, I bring a distinctive perspective to enhance a law firm’s social media presence. Recognizing the pivotal role of effective communication in the legal realm, I apply my knowledge to curate content that not only engages but also educates and informs the audience. My blend of academic knowledge, practical experience, and commitment to ethical standards positions me as a formidable force in the legal arena. As I continue to evolve professionally, I remain steadfast in my pursuit of a legal career that not only positively impacts individuals and society but also enhances a law firm’s digital footprint through strategic social media management. My social media management skills include: - Facebook Marketing - Instagram Marketing - YouTube Marketing - LinkedIn Marketing - Social Media Marketing