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YouTube Music Policy: A Beginner's Guide

If you want to get rich from YouTube, or at least earn a nice little income on the side, then you need to understand how its music policy works.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about YouTube's music policy, including how they track, manage, and punish copyright infringement.

We’ll also show you where you can find royalty free music for YouTube that won’t result in them banning your video or handing your hard-earned ad revenue to someone else!

It’s not an exaggeration to say that YouTube is kind of a big deal. The massive video site owned by Google can proudly boast almost two billion users visits each month.

That’s a good third of the world’s internet population that comes to view the latest music videos, learn how to build a deck chair from scratch, and watch cats freak out about cucumbers.

If you want to make money through video creation, YouTube can be your path to glory and gold… but only if you follow its rules on YouTube background music!

Copyright infringement on YouTube's music policy is something the company takes very seriously, and it has invested over a hundred million dollars into its sophisticated Content ID system to keep us all honest.

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A Quick Reminder That Copyright Is a Thing

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could use any music you wanted in your video? No, it actually wouldn’t, because without copyright law, anyone could use your video any way they wanted without giving you credit, requesting your permission, or paying you royalties for the privilege.

Copyright protects artists and ensures that they can retain ownership and control over their creations. It also means that you can’t just pop Taylor Swift’s latest hit into your video no matter how great it would sound unless you can make a strong case under our fair use laws (which is a topic for another day).

Unsurprisingly, copyright infringement has been a bit of a challenge for YouTube. Many of its users have unwittingly (or wittingly) posted videos that contain copyrighted music or video clips. The problem got so bad that in 2007, Viacom sued YouTube for a whopping $1 billion claiming that it had hosted over 160,000 unauthorized clips from Viacom’s properties, including MTV and Nickelodeon.

In response to this and slews of complaints from media companies and artists, YouTube has developed two separate systems for handling copyright issues – it’s Content ID System and copyright infringement notices.

As both a content creator and someone who uses the works of others (in the form of YouTube background music), you need to understand how both of these systems work.

What Is YouTube’s Content ID System?

In 2007, right around the time it was getting sued by Viacom for a billion dollars, YouTube realized that it needed a way to identify copyrighted materials and to give copyright holders suitable ways to address the infringement. Its solution was to build its Content ID System.

In a nutshell, Content ID is a vast database of copyrighted files that YouTube uses to track and identify copyrighted materials, which then allows it to alert content owners and offer them redress.

How big is Content ID? It now includes over 75 million reference files from over 9,000 media partners! These days, it is very difficult to slip past the all-knowing eye of the Content ID System.

How Content ID Works in YouTube's Music Policy

Content ID isn’t magic. It depends on content creators like you to grow its database and to respond to content ID notifications.

When you polish off your first videos, you’ll want to use this system to protect your valuable creation. Here’s how the system works:

Step One: Content Owners Upload Their Work

Let’s say that your cousin Jimmy is a ukulele player of some renown in your local community. He has recorded several songs, one of which you’ve used in your new video documentary on your personal struggle to make the perfect yogurt parfait. (Steven Spielberg will be calling for rights any day now!)

Jimmy doesn’t want anyone to use his songs without permission, so he uploads his music file to YouTube’s Content ID System and proves that he is the content creator and owner.

Step Two: Creation of an Audio Fingerprint


When Jimmy uploads his ukulele song file, YouTube will turn it into a special audio fingerprint that it will store in its database. Like a CSI investigator, YouTube will scan this fingerprint against all of its current videos and any newly uploaded videos searching for matches that could indicate someone is using Jimmy’s song without his permission.

How good is this system? So far, Content ID has allowed content owners to “claim” over 800 million videos on YouTube!

Step Three: Content Owners Choose Their Response

Let’s say you upload your brilliant yogurt parfait documentary to YouTube, which includes one of Jimmy’s songs during a particularly poignant strawberry chopping scene. YouTube’s Content ID system will scan your video and find a match. Instead of immediately pulling down your video, it will instead send Jimmy a notification.

Here’s where things get interesting. YouTube gives Jimmy three choices in how to respond to the use of his song. He can choose to:

  • Block your video so that it can’t be viewed
  • Monetize your video by running ads on it and receiving the ad revenue it generates
  • Track your video and receive useful data like viewership numbers and where those viewers are located

The vast majority of content owners choose to automatically monetize the videos that use their content, and this has resulted in over $2 billion in payouts from the Content ID system over the past five years.

In this way, the Content ID System offers a win-win scenario. It allows content owners to have full to earn revenue from their content while also allowing user videos to stay up. Jimmy can earn money from your documentary while you get to broadcast your parfait trials and tribulations to the world.

Step Four: Disputing Content Claims

What if Jimmy gave you a permission to use his song in your documentary and now you find that he blocked your video or monetized it for himself? You do have a means to fight back. In your user portal, you can choose to dispute the claim, which gives the content owner 30 days to respond.

Jimmy will see your dispute, remember your deal, and hopefully release his claim on your video so you can earn your revenue. (All ad revenue earned during the dispute process is held by YouTube and distributed after the dispute is resolved.)

If Jimmy is corrupted by the loads of money your video is generating, decides not to honor your agreement, and upholds his claim to your video, you can then appeal his decision.

Introducing the Copyright Infringement Notice



One potentially confusing aspect of YouTube’s background music copyright policy is that it has two systems that work separately from each other. The most commonly used system is its Content ID System, which we’ve just discussed.

Content owners have separate way to enforce their copyright claims, which is to submit a notice of copyright infringement to YouTube against a specific video. In response, YouTube will pull the video and send the user the infamous takedown notice.

Copyright infringement notices carry a penalty. Not only is the user’s video immediately pulled down, but they also receive a “strike” against them. The strike will disappear after 90 days if the user completes YouTube’s “copyright school.” (Note: Strikes do not occur when Content ID flags a video; only when a content owner sends an infringement notice.)

Serial copyright abusers beware! If you receive three strikes within 90 days, YouTube reserves the right to terminate your account, including all of your channels and to block any future accounts you may try to open! If you earn your bread on YouTube, this type of action could wipe out all your earnings overnight.

As with the Copyright ID system, you have an avenue to dispute any copyright infringement claims. You can request a retraction from the supposed copyright owner or submit a counter notification to YouTube stating your case.

It’s important to note that YouTube’s copyright rules do not eliminate or replace copyright law. A content owner may decide to send you a cease and desist notice for any YouTube videos you create that illegally use their music or copyrighted material. They can even drag you to court and request that you pay a fine of up to $150,000 per copyright infraction!

Where to Find Royalty Free YouTube Background Music

It really doesn’t pay to use someone else’s music in your YouTube videos… well, it might pay, but you won’t be the one cashing that check! In a best-case scenario, all the ad revenue your video earns will go to someone else. In a worst-case scenario, YouTube will block your video or could terminate your entire account!

With so much on the line, it’s a much safer bet to simply use YouTube royalty free music.

Fortunately, there are many great resources that provide music without any copyright strings attached. In fact, YouTube offers its own audio library of free music and sound effects. Its audio library includes a good selection of music that you can sort by genre, mood, instrumentation, and timing.

Be aware that some of the selections do require attribution!

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The downside of using YouTube’s free audio library is that it is a top resource for many new and low-budget video creators. That means that you’re likely to hear the same songs on countless YouTube videos. Users will hear the same bland background music as well and may not take your videos seriously.

One way to overcome this issue is to search for other sources of royalty free music. At Soundstripe, we offer high quality YouTube background music. Our music library is highly diverse, with tons of songs in different genres. We give you multiple ways to sort songs and allow you to create playlists so you can store your favorite tunes.

In order to fairly compensate our artists, we charge users a reasonable monthly or yearly subscription fee for unlimited use. This limits the amount of people using our royalty free music, which will help your videos sound fresh and original!

Don’t follow the crowds and re-use YouTube background music that hundreds of other videos already use. Try something new. Try Soundstripe today!

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