Fair use on YouTube

Fair use is a legal doctrine that says you can reuse copyright-protected material under certain circumstances without getting permission from the copyright owner. 

Fair use guidelines

Different countries have different rules about when it’s okay to use material without the copyright owner’s permission. For example, in the United States, works of commentary, criticism, research, teaching, or news reporting might be considered fair use. Some other countries have a similar idea called fair dealing that may work differently.

Courts analyze potential fair uses according to the facts of each specific case. You’ll probably want to get legal advice from an expert before uploading videos that contain copyright-protected material.

The four factors of fair use

In the United States, fair use is determined by a judge, who analyzes how each of the four factors of fair use applies to a specific case.

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

Courts typically focus on whether the use is “transformative.” That is, whether it adds new expression or meaning to the original, or whether it merely copies from the original. Commercial uses are less likely to be considered fair, though it’s possible to monetize a video and still take advantage of the fair use defense.

2. The nature of the copyrighted work

Using material from primarily factual works is more likely to be fair than using purely fictional works.

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

Borrowing small bits of material from an original work is more likely to be considered fair use than borrowing large portions. However, even a small taking may weigh against fair use in some situations if it constitutes the "heart" of the work.

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Uses that harm the copyright owner’s ability to profit from his or her original work are less likely to be fair uses. Courts have sometimes made an exception under this factor in cases involving parodies.

Examples of fair use

Check out the videos below for helpful examples of fair use.

Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck

"Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck"

by rebelliouspixels

This remix combines short excerpts from different source materials and creates a new message about the effect of provocative rhetoric in times of economic crisis. Works that create new meaning for the source material may be considered fair use.

"Asiana to Sue KTVU for Broadcasting Fake, Racist Pilot Names"

by TheRunListChannel

News reporting is another type of use that’s often considered fair. This video discusses an erroneous television report that made headlines. The commentator uses a brief clip to identify the subject of his report.

YouTube’s fair use protection

YouTube receives lots of takedown requests under copyright law asking us to remove videos that copyright owners say are infringing. Sometimes those requests target videos that seem like clear examples of fair use. Courts have held that rightsholders must consider fair use before they send a copyright takedown notice, so in many cases (though it’s a very small percentage of copyright takedowns overall), we ask rightsholders to confirm they’ve done this analysis.

In some very special cases, we’ve asked the video’s creator to join a new effort that protects some of the very best examples of “fair use” on YouTube from copyright takedown requests. Through this initiative, YouTube indemnifies creators whose fair use videos have been subject to takedown notices for up to $1 million of legal costs in the event the takedown results in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. This ensures those creators have a chance to protect their work, and makes the entire creative world better by educating people on both the importance and limits of fair use doctrine.

See examples of YouTube’s fair use protection

Fracking Next Door

Check out the fair use protection playlist for additional examples.

Note: If you're in the US, you can watch the videos we’ve protected above. Unfortunately, if you’re outside the US, you won’t be able to view the videos in this playlist.

The videos featured above represent a minuscule portion of the number of copyright takedown requests we receive—they’re even a small percentage of the number of potential fair uses that are subject to takedowns. YouTube is only able to offer fair use protection to a small number of individual videos each year that we choose based on a variety of factors. We try to select videos that are most illustrative of fair use. If your video is chosen for this effort, we’ll get in touch with you. Please don’t contact us asking to protect your video; we’ll contact you if we’re able to offer you this protection.

Reinstated videos

While we can’t offer a legal defense to everyone, we’ll remain vigilant about takedown notices impacting all creators. You may have seen press coverage of some cases where we’ve asked rights owners to reconsider takedowns or reinstated fair use videos. For example:

  • This video by the Young Turks, which shows brief clips from a heavily-criticized commercial as part of a conversation on why it offended viewers.
  • Secular Talk’s video, which criticizes Mike Huckabee for endorsing an unproven treatment for diabetes.
  • Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed -- [original version], a remix comparing the ways women are portrayed in two vampire-related works targeted at teenagers.
  • "No Offense", uploaded by the National Organization for Marriage, which used a rant by Perez Hilton as an example of rude behavior from proponents of same-sex marriage.


If you’d like to learn more about fair use, there are lots of resources available online. The following sites are for educational purposes only and are not endorsed by YouTube:

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