Is it legal to use copyrighted music?

Using music on YouTube: what's legal and what's not?

The YouTube video and the music

You are wondering "What music can I use on YouTube?": Uploading other people's music to the Internet is a tricky thing from a legal perspective. Because a piece of music is a copyrighted work according to §2 Copyright Act (UrhG). A song usually has several authors: the composer, the songwriter, the performer and the production company.

The type of background is irrelevant in terms of copyright law

It does not matter whether the uploaded title is only used as background music for your own content or a third-party music video is uploaded - the bottom line is that the rights to the song always belong to the author. The following principle applies: A YouTube video with music is only harmless from a copyright point of view if the uploader owns all rights to the content, including the music.

The author alone decides on publication

The author alone decides on the publication of a piece of music. This also includes the right to decide how and where the work may be distributed. A video on YouTube is basically a publication because it leaves privacy and is available to a broad public.

YouTube and the thing with GEMA

The “Society for Musical Performance and Mechanical Reproduction Rights”, GEMA for short, represents the rights of use of its members as a collecting society. For a long time there was disagreement between YouTube and GEMA about the use of music by the artists it represents on the video platform.

In November 2016, the parties agreed, initially until 2019: The videos of GEMA artists have been freely available again on YouTube since then - but clarification with GEMA is still required in advance for the use of the music.

YouTube and the thing with GEMA

The “Society for Musical Performance and Mechanical Reproduction Rights”, GEMA for short, represents the rights of use of its members as a collecting society. For a long time, there was disagreement between YouTube and GEMA about the use of music by the artists it represents on the video platform. In November 2016, the parties agreed until 2019: The videos by GEMA artists have been freely available on YouTube again since then to be seen - for the use of the music, however, clarification with GEMA is still necessary in advance.

Remix, mash-up and cover - are there exceptions to copyright?

Copyright not only protects exploitation and reproduction rights, it also protects a work from “distortion” and editing. Anyone who mixes or distorts a piece of music with other songs, for example in a mash-up or remix, is editing the original work. This does not make it unobjectionable in terms of copyright, but merely changes it - the protection of copyright also applies to this variant.

Author's consent required

If the cover version of a song does not contain any changes to the lyrics and style, the consent of the author or the copyright holder is required to upload the associated video to YouTube. In many cases this is GEMA. For a song that contains extensive editing of the original, the consent of all rights holders is required in order to upload a video with the recording. In addition to the owner of the exploitation rights, this can also be the composer, for example.

Use free content properly

Some artists choose to only retain selected rights to their work, rather than all rights as provided by copyright law. With so-called CC licenses (Creative Commons licenses), they release their work for certain uses - for example, use in YouTube videos. In the case of YouTube videos, compliance with the individual license requirements and a mention of the artist in the credits are often sufficient to protect his copyright.

Copyright applies up to 70 years after the death of the author

In principle, copyright exists for up to 70 years after the author's death. After that, a work becomes in the public domain, and anyone can use it for their own purposes from this point on. We are talking here, however, of the original work. Newer recordings, cover versions and other modifications are in turn subject to the copyright of the respective creator.

Upload concert recordings to YouTube

Have you been to a concert of your favorite band and now want to upload the recorded video to YouTube? In most cases this should not be allowed. The organizers often prohibit recordings or at least their distribution. The artist's personal and protective rights, in particular copyright, can also prevent dissemination.

The content of the video is protected by copyright

The concert recording is your own video, but the content is protected. The following applies here: no legal upload without permission. The fact that many disregard this regulation and publish entire concerts or excerpts from them does not change anything in the legal situation.

A video violates copyright law - watching it is a criminal offense

Watching a YouTube clip that violates copyrights does not constitute a criminal offense. On the one hand, the viewer cannot unequivocally recognize with every video whether there is a copyright infringement, ie whether it was uploaded “obviously unlawfully”.

On the other hand, streaming YouTube videos only temporarily stores temporary files that resemble a private copy and are therefore exempt from copyright. Because §53 UrhG allows the reproduction of a work for private use without the consent of the author.

Copyright infringement in use

If music videos, the upload of which on YouTube violates copyright, are linked or embedded, things look different. If this is done with commercial intent, the linking and embedding of the video represents a separate copyright infringement. Linking and embedding is also urgently not recommended for music videos with inciting texts or symbols, as dissemination contributes to a violation of the law.

What are the consequences of a breach?

If you upload copyrighted music to YouTube without the required consent of the author, the rights holder decides whether the video in question remains online, advertised, or deleted. The illegal upload also means a violation of YouTube's terms of use - if the case repeats, your user account can be permanently blocked by YouTube.

Content ID process for detecting copyright infringement

In order to uncover legal violations, YouTube works with the so-called content ID procedure. To do this, authors store their data on YouTube and determine what should happen in the event of a copyright violation. The measures range from the aforementioned monetization of the video in favor of the musical author to the deletion of the video.

Copyright: From warning to compensation

As with most other copyright violations, a warning and a declaration of cease and desist and, in the worst case, claims for damages can be made against the person who uploaded the video in question.

So far, simple YouTube users have rarely been prosecuted for copyright violations - but this does not make it legal to upload music from other people to YouTube. Therefore, before uploading, find out whether copyrights speak against the use of a piece of music, because the following principle also applies to copyright on the Internet: ignorance does not protect against punishment.

Legally speaking, no, because the owner of the music video is usually the author. This can be a composer, producer or a record company. If you still want to upload a music video, there may be consequences.
A song usually has several authors: the composer, the songwriter, the performer and the production company.
The “Society for Musical Performance and Mechanical Reproduction Rights”, GEMA for short, represents the rights of use of its members as a collecting society.
Copyright not only protects exploitation and reproduction rights, it also protects a work from “distortion” and editing. Anyone who mixes or distorts a piece of music with other songs, for example in a mash-up or remix, is editing the original work. This does not make it unobjectionable in terms of copyright, but merely changes it - the protection of copyright also applies to this variant.
The copyright is valid until. to 70 years after the artist's death.
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