How Does YouTube Get Away with Posting Copyrighted Material?

YouTubeLogoI hear that question from students and teachers quite often.  It’s actually a pretty simple answer. 

They don’t – at least not really.

Huh? 

Trying to simplify, I’m going to give imaginary people names to help keep all the characters straight in the mind of the reader.

Here’s the way it works, if Mike uploads something that contains copyrighted material, it is placed on YouTube’s site.  It is entirely possible that the copyright holders may never know Mike posted anything.  YouTube is a pretty big site.  It’s possible the rights holder, Steve, may not search for his material.  It’s also possible that NO ONE MIKE KNOWS MIGHT RUN ACROSS THE OFFENDING MATERIAL AND TELL STEVE ABOUT IT.  If so, Mike gets away with it.  It’s sort of like you getting away with speeding in your car if no police officer catches you doing it.  It doesn’t mean you didn’t break the law.  It just means you didn’t get caught.

On the other hand, suppose Steve, the copyright holder, did discover Mike posted something created without obtaining permission first.  Steve has two options now:  (1) he can do nothing and let the material remain on the YouTube or (2) he can decide the material must be removed.  It is extremely important that everyone understand that Steve can choose #1 or #2 at any time and Steve can choose #1 for some posters and #2 for other posters and Steve can change his mind at any time. 

For my example, Steve notifies YouTube that material is on the site without his permission.  He does this by filling out a form available on the copyright section of YouTube (scroll to the bottom of the YouTube.com page to see a link to their "copyright policies and procedures".  YouTube immediately takes down the material.  (If they don’t take it down, Steve can bring legal action against YouTube.)  YouTube will place a “strike” on Mike’s account.  Three strikes and Mike’s account is terminated.  This is comparable in the speeding example to perhaps being caught and your license to drive is suspended or terminated.

If you feel your video was wrongly removed, you can appeal the decision.

Is that all that will happen?  Well, as far as YouTube is concerned, yes.  However, let’s imagine that the speeding also resulted in a horrific and tragic accident.  Read on:  It is not at all difficult to trace the poster of the copyright infringing material.  Once the Steve knows who posted his material illegally, Steve has every right to come after the Mike with the full might of the Federal Copyright laws supporting him.  If Mike wants to chance being the defendant in a rather open and shut copyright infringement case, then that is a choice Mike has the freedom to make.

Bottom line:  As teachers, we can’t really control what our students post on-line from the privacy of their homes.  But we certainly can educate them in what the law says.  Most importantly we should actively discourage illegal acts which we become aware of.  We should never model this illegal behavior ourselves.


HarrisA former television production instructor, Phil is nationally-known as a break-out session presenter in the fields of television production and broadcast journalism.  He has travelled throughout the country as a consultant and trainer sharing and advising session attendees on many aspects of teaching these subjects successfully.  Phil has made presentations at VENE, ACTE, FETC, ITEA, JEA, SkillsUSA, STN, TSA, VATIE, and others.  Phil’s new textbook, Television Production and Broadcast Journalism, published by Goodheart-Willcox, Co., is available at www.g-w.com.  Phil has also written over 20 articles for School-Video-News.com.  Additional information and links for booking Phil can be found at www.video-educator-training.com