A woman sits at a table, looking and smiling at a smartphone on a tripod in the foreground. The woman holds up a tube of lip gloss for the camera. She has long light brown hair and wears a pale yellow T-shirt. The table in front of her is scattered with more tubes of makeup, makeup brushes, and a small round reversible mirror on a chrome stand.
You can add music to your YouTube videos if you have the rights to use the music (through either a license or owning the copyright yourself) or if the music is not copyrighted. — Getty Images/AN Studio

Music is one of the best ways to enhance your YouTube videos and improve the user experience. But if you aren’t careful about where you find your music, you could get hit with claims of copyright infringement.

What is music copyright infringement?

Music copyright infringement occurs when copyrighted music is used without the owner’s permission. Copyright infringement includes distributing, reproducing, or displaying a song without legal permission.

YouTube allows creators to monitor content through Content ID, a copyrighted audio and visual content database. Whenever someone uploads a new YouTube video, it’s scanned through Content ID and flagged for potential copyright infringement.

If you break YouTube’s copyright infringement policies, you could get hit with the following penalties:

  • Demonetization: The copyright holder can choose to demonetize your video and claim any of the proceeds.
  • Muted content: The copyright holder can mute your content, meaning the video will still be available, but there will be no sound or music.
  • Blocked content: A copyright holder can also block your content so it’s no longer available on YouTube. This could seriously penalize your channel and the following you’ve worked hard to build.

[Read more: How to Seek Permission to Use Copyrighted Material]

How to avoid copyright violations on YouTube

Many copyright infringement claims are accidents, but the motive is irrelevant — you’re still responsible for complying with copyright laws. Here’s how to avoid copyright violations on YouTube.

Understand YouTube’s Community Guidelines

YouTube’s Community Guidelines explain how creators are allowed to behave on YouTube. Copyright infringement violates the Community Guidelines, so you'll receive a content strike if you’re caught doing this.

Royalty-free music is music you can use without paying royalties to the artist, and it’s the most commonly used option on YouTube.

Someone will notify you of a content strike via email, and the first violation is usually a warning. You won’t be allowed to upload new videos, start a livestream, or upload new shorts for a week after the first content strike.

Your channel will be permanently removed if you receive three content strikes within 90 days. Familiarizing yourself with the Community Guidelines will help you avoid violating YouTube’s policies.

[Read more: What Happens If Someone Violates Your Copyright?]

Only use music you have rights to

The best way to avoid copyright infringement is by only using music you have the right to use. If you want to use copyrighted music, you must obtain a license or permission from the owner.

You can also stick to using music you’ve created yourself. If you only upload original content, you don’t have to worry about claims of copyright infringement. Of course, not everyone has the skills to do this, so royalty-free music is another good option.

Royalty-free music is music you can use without paying royalties to the artist, and it’s the most commonly used option on YouTube. For example, you can subscribe to the YouTube Audio Library, which provides free music you can download and use in your videos.

[Read more: Copyright Small Claims Court: What You Need to Know About the CASE Act]

Understand fair use

Fair use is a legal exception to copyright infringement laws — it states that you don’t need permission to use copyrighted music in the following situations:

  • Criticism: If you’re critiquing a movie or some type of music, you can include a short clip of the work you’re reviewing without permission.
  • Parody: If you’re creating a humorous parody of another artist’s music, it may qualify as a fair use exception.
  • Commentary: If you’re using copyrighted music to illustrate a point in your commentary, it falls under fair use protection.
  • Academic: If you’re creating educational content, you may need to reference other individuals’ work.

Copyright disputes can be a huge challenge for YouTube creators, but there are ways to avoid them. By familiarizing yourself with YouTube’s policies and being diligent about the music you include in your videos, you can prevent claims of copyright infringement.

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