Who Owns Your YouTube Video? You, YouTube, or Someone Else Entirely?

Who Owns Your YouTube Video? You, YouTube, or Someone Else Entirely?

When you upload a video to YouTube, who actually owns that video? Do you give your rights away to YouTube, or do you still retain copyright ownership? The short answer to that is: "It depends - there is a difference between ownership vs. licensing." For some specific answers to that and other important video copyright questions, read-on for a deep dive into YouTube's terms of service with cyber-lawyer and friend-of-ReelSEO, Daliah Saper.

Daliah and I talk about getting and retaining copyrights for your web videos, the myths and assumptions with YouTube's TOS, and how to best prepare for working with an attorney for protecting yourself and your web video assets.

Does YouTube Own My Uploaded Video?

The short answer to that is: "It depends – but YouTube doesn't actually take away any ownership rights."

Who Owns Your YouTube Video? You, YouTube, or Someone Else Entirely?

Daliah Saper, Principal Attorney – SaperLaw.com

I met with Daliah after her recent seminar, "Can I Do That Online? Copyright Law and Online Posting." We had the opportunity to sit down and discuss perhaps the most common question video publishers have today with YouTube:

Does YouTube own any web video I upload there, and do I give up my ownership rights?

Daliah explains that there is a common misperception that YouTube, video sharing sites, and other social networking sites will own your video content once you post to them.

"The truth is, something close, but not quite." She says. "Meaning, YouTube always allows the owners to retain ownership of their work. But what they require in their terms of service is that you grant to YouTube a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual license to freely sub-license, re-distribute, re-publish, monetize, and whatever they may want to do with your video. They're basically requiring that you grant YouTube all of the same rights that you have with your video, short of turning over your rights to them." (I.e., assigning to YouTube your complete rights.)

YouTube's Terms of Service, Explained

If you don't have the patience to read the YouTube Terms of Service, I recommend watching this entertaining, informative, and very straightforward video summary below. (It also gives a helpful overview of other legal considerations to consider anytime you publish a video to YouTube or other 3rd party platform.)

You STILL May Not Own Your Web Video!

Many people assume that if they hire a videographer to shoot anything for them, they automatically own that video, and all the copyrights to it. But as Daliah explains, that actually depends on whether you hired your videographer as a W-2 employee or as a freelancer.

The employee-versus-freelancer distinction is what determines if your videographer is the owner of the video, or if whoever hired them is the owner. If you or your company hired a videographer as an employee, then you or your company would then automatically be the owner of the video. "But if they are hired as a freelancer, then it is they who will automatically be treated as the owner of the video content." She says. It doesn't matter if you're doing all of the work performing on camera or giving direction, or handling any other parts of the video assignment.

That's why as Daliah says, if it's important for you to retain all copyrights to your video and are commissioning any videography work from a freelancer or other third party, you need to get from them a "work for hire agreement." With this agreement, you will legally own any video you hire a freelance videographer to make. (Here's a downloadable sample of a work-for-hire freelance videographer agreement, and I've provided this informational video below.)

Assumptions and Misconceptions with Web Video Ownership

The important things to take away from our discussion are two key things:

  • The owner of any video submitted on the Web to any 3rd party site still retains their ownership rights, but may agree to share all of those rights with whomever they share their video, provided they agree to it in that site's Terms of Use. This agreement should at least be clearly posted on their website, and where you have to take at least a one-time action (such as clicking on an "I agree" button when you start your account with them.) So if you are very protective of your copyrights, you should always read any site's terms of use before you submit any video online.
  • Whenever you are having anyone who is not an employee shoot a video for you, make sure you have a work-for-hire agreement in place with them. Ideally, it should be either drafted or reviewed by an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and Web video, and who is familiar with your business.

The more you become self-aware of important things like terms of service with video sites and legal contracts, the better you'll be able to protect you video assets when it's time to make them available!

How to Work with an Attorney to Protecting Your Web Videos

I asked Daliah, for someone who is producing, publishing, and promoting video – how should they work with an attorney to obtain, retain, and protect copyrights to that video? Here are the two key things she advises how to prepare:

  1. Do an intellectual property audit – Before you meet with or start any work with an attorney, you should do what's called an intellectual property audit. "This will include things like, what are the domain names you want to protect? What are the brands you want to protect? What are the content (e.g. – video, music, photographs, illustrations, copy, websites, etc.) that you want to protect?" (If you need help figuring out what to gather, I recommend downloading this intellectual property audit checklist, and checking out this intellectual property audit overview.
  2. Determine what contracts you need – Once you have your IP audit materials ready, you can then sit down with your attorney, who should help you figure out what contracts you need – both what you may need to retroactively get, and what you should have moving forward. Your attorney should be able to draft the contracts for you based on your IP assets (including your video) and your business model, so you're protected from an ownership standpoint.

My Web Video That SUCKED

I did an video interview of Daliah which we shot after her seminar. However, were plagued with so many room noise and lighting issues, and even the audio coming out freaky, that I had serious reservations about including the piece so as not to overshadow the great content. (Plus how bad would that be for someone who does a series on "Web Videos for Business That Suck?!".) But I decided to go ahead with it, at least to show I'm not above exposing my own mistakes. So if you do want to subject yourself to the final piece, you can watch it below. (You have been duly warned! ;)

Image courtesy of iStockphoto®, © Palto, Image #13566113.

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About the Author -
Grant Crowell is a trusted content provider in the online marketing space. Grant's expertise includes social media and video optimization, video SEO, usability, how-to's and tips, legal issues, and ethics with online video.
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