YouTube Is Finally Getting Better At Explaining Fair Use

Fair use is so complex and nuanced, that even most professional video creators would be hard pressed to explain it succinctly and clearly. Copyright law is just... complicated, like most laws. To their credit, YouTube has tried to offer resources on multiple occasions to help their users better understand the intricate rules and guidelines for fair use, including the creation of the Copyright Center, which is intended to serve as an educational resource on all things copyright-related.

They also brought in Anthony Falzone (Executive Director) and Julie Ahrens (Associate Director) of the Fair Use project our of Stanford--which was originally funded by Google--and asked users to submit questions they had about fair use. Then the two experts answered them in video form.

The Experts' Answers

The finished video is 34 minutes long, but packed with information:

If you don't quite have that much free time on your hands today, the video description is kind enough to provide timestamps for the answers to specific questions. Here are a few examples:

  • "I am at an event, restaurant, or other public place and a band or the radio is playing in the background but I do not intentionally record the band or radio. I am filming something else. The music is out of my control. Is this fair use?" - 05:45
  • "If I dub over an episode of a cartoon with my own voices and change the dialogue for parody's sake, am I legally in the clear?" - 10:05
  • "If I am uploading YouTube videos of captured video and commentary of video games as I play them am I violating copyright?" - 12:21
  • "Can I perform a copyrighted song in a YouTube video? Can I teach how to play it? Can I show guitar tablature or music notation?" - 21:21
  • "If I use 2-3 seconds of a video for a mashup but give credit to that video owner, is it fair use?" - 26:04
  • "Are there any cases in which posting the uncut entirety of another's content could be considered fair use? For instance, if commentary is located in the description or annotation fields, and not on the video itself?" - 29:23
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The Fair Use Problem

Let's be fair to YouTube: fair use is murky. It's complicated. It's evolving. Explaining fair use to consumers is simply never going to be easy, because so much of the application of the law is determined on a case-by-case basis. It's like explaining why you love someone--you can kind of do it, but there's a good chance the listener is still going to be confused when you're done.

This new video is by far the most successful attempt by YouTube to help users understand copyright law--it's definitely better than the silly cartoon they created when they launched the Copyright Center. The questions are specific enough to be unique, but vague enough that you can begin to apply the answers to your own particular situation.

Applause for YouTube for not sitting back and leaving these difficult decisions up to the users. Instead, they keep going out of their way to try and educate us, and they're getting better at it. Oh, and bonus points to the first person that takes this video and re-uploads part of it to test the fair use waters, because I think that would be kind of hilarious.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Am I allowed to show internet news headlines behind me in my youtube news videos while discussing them and commenting on them etc...???

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the last poster that visuals would have helped. Maybe the video could be broken up into categories too?

    But the information is very useful.

  • Grant Crowell

    What's bad is they didn't bother with closed captions or making a transcript available, plus some graphics or video clip samples of what they're describing. The people that most need to follow this process information visually, rather than only watching talking heads. (Sure you could just download the audio with a 3rd party tool, but having visuals help people retain the information.) The information is good, but I would have expected a much better delivery style, especially from something YouTube is lending their name to.