YouTube Copyright Roulette: The Challenges of Background Music

By Laura Sandoiu and Sander Petit

In today’s digital era, YouTube has emerged as a powerhouse platform, revolutionizing the way content is created, shared, and consumed. From captivating vlogs to hilarious skits, YouTube has empowered a diverse community of content creators to connect with audiences worldwide. This has shaped the entertainment landscape like never before.

Copyright Strikes on YouTube

However, amid the soaring success and influence of YouTube, content creators encounter a formidable hurdle: copyright strikes. This recurring issue sees channels being terminated or penalized due to allegations of copyright infringement. It leaves creators reeling from the aftermath and jeopardizing their ability to continue producing content.

In this article, we delve into the intricate world of channel termination on YouTube, with particular focus copyright strikes. We unravel the injustices faced by creators featuring fleeting snippets of popular songs in their videos’ background. This unfortunately happens even when their content’s essence lies far beyond the realm of music. Through the prism of YouTube’s Terms and Conditions and the broader legal landscape, we endeavor to illuminate the struggles content creators confront while navigating the intricate web of copyright on this dynamic platform.

Balance of rights

Join us on this exploration as we unravel the profound implications of copyright strikes on YouTube. We advocate for a fair and balanced approach that safeguards creators’ rights while upholding the principles of Intellectual Property Law. Together, let‘s seek a harmonious coexistence between artistic expression and IP rights protection in the realm of online content creation.

Unravelling the Copyright Web: YouTube’s Creative Code

    In the vast realm of digital content, copyright law stands as the guardian of creative works. It protects the rights of creators and regulating the use of intellectual property. Copyright grants exclusive rights to the creators of original works giving them control over their creations. Creators have control over how they use and distribute their music, videos, images, and literature.

    Within this dynamic landscape, YouTube emerged as a thriving platform. It empowers individuals to unleash their creativity, share their ideas, and connect with a global audience. However, this creative freedom intertwines with the responsibility to respect and abide by copyright laws.

    When it comes to uploading content on YouTube, creators must be mindful of the potential copyright implications. It goes beyond using complete songs or videos without permission; even incorporating short snippets or background music in videos can raise copyright concerns. While the main focus of a video may be entirely unrelated to music, including copyrighted material still triggers legal issues.

    YouTube Content ID

    To tackle infringement, YouTube has implemented Content ID. This is an advanced system that scans uploaded videos and cross-references them with a database of copyrighted content. When a match is detected, rights holders are notified and can choose to take action. Among such actions are blocking the video, monetizing it, or issuing a strike against the channel.

    As content creators, it is crucial to navigate the nuances of copyright law and familiarize ourselves with YouTube’s policies. While the platform encourages innovation and expression, it also expects users to uphold the rights of copyright holders. In the following sections, we‘ll explore the pitfalls encountered by creators as they navigate YouTube’s terrain of IP rights.

    The Rulebook: YouTube’s Terms and Conditions

    As a prominent platform for content sharing and distribution, YouTube operates under a set of Terms, Conditions and Community Guidelines. These are meant to govern user behavior and content usage across the platform. The guidelines address various aspects, including copyright infringement, and provide a framework for reporting and addressing copyright claims on YouTube.

    Terms and Conditions

    YouTube’s T&Cs outline the rights and responsibilities of both content creators and the platform itself. They aim to emphasize the significance of respecting intellectual property rights. They also require users to ensure that they possess the necessary rights and permissions to upload and share content. Content creators must comply with copyright laws and refrain from using copyrighted material without proper authorization.


    To reinforce rights protection, YouTube has established an extensive system for reporting and managing claims. Content owners can submit notifications of infringement through YouTube’s Copyright Complaint Form. In there, they must provide details of the work, the allegedly infringing content, and their contact information. Upon receipt of a valid claim, YouTube takes appropriate actions. These may include removing the infringing content, issuing a copyright strike against the channel, or monetizing the content on behalf of the rights owner.


    YouTube also offers content creators the opportunity to dispute copyright claims through its Content ID system. When a video is flagged for copyright infringement, creators can challenge the claim if they believe it falls within fair use or if they possess the necessary licenses or permissions. The dispute resolution process enables content creators to defend their rights and provides a mechanism for resolving disputes without resorting to legal action.

    Safeguarding IP

    YouTube’s Terms and Conditions and copyright enforcement mechanisms aim to safeguard intellectual property rights. There have been, however, instances where the system has faced criticism. Content creators have raised concerns about the potential for false or unjustified copyright claims, which can result in channel strikes and even termination.

    Music Clips in the Mix: Exploring Copyright Quirks on YouTube

    In the world of content creation, it’s common to encounter videos where fractions of popular songs play in the background. They tend to add an extra layer of charm and ambiance to videos. These music clips are usually carefully selected to enhance the mood and atmosphere of a video. Despite creators’ good intentions, a lively debate has ignited surrounding copyright infringement and the intricate concept of fair use.

    Copyright law bestows exclusive rights upon the creators of original works, including musical compositions. These rights encompass a wide range of aspects, such as the reproduction, distribution, and public performance of the protected material. Hence, using even a few seconds of a song without authorization could infringe upon the rights of the copyright owner.

    However, within the realm of copyright law, lies the doctrine of fair use—an essential pillar of creativity and expression. Fair use acknowledges that certain uses of protected material may be fair and permissible under specific circumstances. Fair use generally includes commentary, criticism, or educational purposes. Determining whether using short music clips in YouTube videos qualifies as fair use necessitates a meticulous evaluation of various factors. These factors include: the purpose and character of the use, nature of the work, the extent of the used portion, and the potential impact on the market for the original work.

    Fair & Transformative Use

    The issue becomes increasingly intricate when considering the transformative nature of content that incorporates short music clips. If the primary focus of a video resides outside the realm of music itself, and the music clip is utilized as a background element, some argue that it could constitute a transformative use—a creative repurposing of the original work. Nonetheless, the evaluation of fair use remains subjective and heavily reliant on the unique facts and circumstances surrounding each case.

    YouTube, in its commitment to upholding copyright law, has devised robust enforcement mechanisms, including the innovative Content ID system. As mentioned earlier, this intricate system scans and identifies copyrighted material within uploaded videos, ensuring the safeguarding of holders’ rights. Consequently, even brief music clips can trigger claims and potentially lead to channel strikes or, in severe cases, termination, should the copyright owner decide to enforce their rights.

    YouTube and Global Copyright Laws: A Global Perspective

    The issue of short music clips on YouTube and their potential copyright implications extends beyond national borders. International treaties and agreements play a significant role in shaping the legal framework governing copyright protection and enforcement. Additionally, European laws and regulations provide specific provisions that apply to YouTube and content creators within the European Union (EU).

    At the international level, key treaties such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty establish minimum standards of protection for copyrighted works across participating countries. These treaties emphasize the exclusive rights of copyright holders and the need to balance these rights with exceptions and limitations that allow for certain uses of copyrighted material without authorization.

    European Union

    In the European context, the EU Copyright Directive has been instrumental in harmonizing copyright laws among EU member states. The Directive sets out rules for the use of protected works in the digital age and addresses issues such as online platforms’ liability for copyright infringement. One notable provision of the Directive is Article 17, formerly Article 13, which places responsibility on online platforms like YouTube to take proactive measures to prevent the uploading and sharing of unauthorized copyrighted material on their platforms.

    Under European copyright laws, the concept of fair use is replaced by the notion of “exceptions and limitations.” These exceptions and limitations outline specific cases where the use of copyrighted material may be permitted without authorization, such as for educational, scientific, or reporting purposes. However, the specific scope and application of these exceptions may vary among EU member states, adding complexity to the legal landscape for content creators on YouTube.

    The implementation of the EU Copyright Directive has led to the adoption of national laws and regulations by individual EU member states. These laws aim to transpose the Directive’s provisions into domestic legislation and address issues such as copyright enforcement, licensing, and the liability of online platforms. Content creators operating within the EU must navigate the specific copyright regulations of each member state where their content is made available.

    Global Compliance

    YouTube, as a global platform, must also comply with the laws and regulations of the countries in which it operates. The platform has implemented various measures to assist content creators and rights holders, such as the Content ID system mentioned earlier, which allows copyright owners to identify and manage their protected content on YouTube. However, challenges remain in striking a balance between protecting holders’ rights and enabling the creative expression and transformative use of copyrighted material by content creators.

    Rising to the Challenge: Solutions for Copyright Conundrums

    Content creators on YouTube face numerous challenges when it comes to navigating copyright issues on the platform. The issue of short music clips being used in the background of unrelated content raises questions about the balance between copyright protection and the ability of content creators to express their creativity and engage with their audiences. In this section, we will explore the challenges faced by content creators and discuss potential solutions to address these issues.

    One of the primary challenges for content creators is the automated content detection system, such as YouTube’s Content ID, which scans uploaded videos for copyrighted material. While these systems aim to protect rights holders by identifying and managing copyrighted content, they can sometimes result in false positives or overly strict enforcement. This can lead to channels receiving strikes and facing the risk of termination, even for the use of short music clips that may be incidental or have minimal impact on the original work.

    Potential Solutions

    To address this challenge, improved automated content detection systems could be developed. These systems should take into account the context in which copyrighted material is used, distinguishing between incidental and transformative uses that fall within the scope of fair use or other applicable exceptions and limitations. By enhancing the accuracy and nuance of these systems, content creators would have greater confidence in uploading their videos without the fear of unwarranted copyright claims.

    Fair use

    Another potential solution lies in providing clearer guidelines for fair use on YouTube. However, its application can be subjective and context-dependent. YouTube could work towards providing more comprehensive and user-friendly guidelines. These help content creators to understand the boundaries of fair use and make informed decisions about the use of copyrighted material in their videos. This would enable creators to engage in transformative and creative activities while respecting the rights of copyright holders.

    Collaboration between YouTube, content creators, and rights holders is also crucial in finding solutions. Open dialogue and communication channels can facilitate better understanding and cooperation. YouTube could establish mechanisms for content creators to communicate with copyright holders directly, enabling discussions and potential resolutions outside of the automated claim system. This would foster a more collaborative environment and reduce the likelihood of channels being unjustly terminated due to short music clips or incidental use of copyrighted material.


    In conclusion, the termination of YouTube channels due to copyright strikes has become a pressing issue for content creators. The use of short music clips in unrelated content has raised concerns about the fairness of such enforcement actions.

    Finding a balance between protecting IP rights holders and supporting content creators is essential. Clearer guidelines for fair use and improved procedures for handling copyright claims should be implemented within YouTube’s Terms and Conditions and Community Guidelines.

    Collaborative efforts among YouTube, content creators, IP rights holders, and legal authorities are needed to address this issue. By developing more effective solutions, such as improved automated content detection systems, a fair and supportive environment can be fostered.

    Ultimately, YouTube has the opportunity to uphold copyright while empowering content creators to express their creativity. By addressing these challenges, YouTube can create a more equitable and sustainable platform for the vibrant community of content creators.

    Questions, advice or practical help?

    If you find yourself confronted with copyright-related challenges on YouTube or any other platform, it’s crucial to seek professional legal advice. Copyright laws and fair use principles can be complex and vary across different jurisdictions.

    Consulting with an IP specialist from Backstage Legal will provide you with the guidance and expertise necessary to navigate these intricate issues. Remember, having a thorough understanding of your rights and obligations as a content creator is key to protecting your work and ensuring compliance with copyright laws.

    Feel free to reach out. You know where to find us.


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