Content Creation

Can You Use Copyrighted Music on YouTube If You Don’t Monetize?

Vukasin Ilic 6 min read
Table of Contents

Incorporating music into your YouTube video is much more than picking a random song and uploading it to your channel.

Most creators don't realize that their video and the channel could be at risk with just one unlicensed song.

Contrary to what many people think, the rule of copyright doesn't just relate to creators who monetize their videos. This misconception has earned many creators a copyright claim and, in more severe cases, copyright strikes.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to monetize your YouTube videos, the rule of copyright stands. This rule states that creators should only upload videos they have created or have permission to use.

So, how do you move from here? It's pretty straightforward. This guide will teach you everything there is to know about YouTube monetization and copyrighted music.

Let's jump right in.

What Does Copyrighted Music Mean to YouTubers?

For many YouTubers, copyrighted music refers to forbidden music that can cost their video when used without permission.

While this is partially correct, it only treats one part of the copyright equation. The issue of copyright can definitely get confusing, but it helps first to understand the music licensing policies of the platform.

When music is copyrighted, it simply means that the copyright holder has complete control over how their music is used on YouTube.

This means that as a creator, it is illegal to use a song you do not have the right to.

Then again, there are two main ways to use copyrighted music on YouTube:

  1. Seek permission from the original creator.
  2. Split the revenue from the video with them.

Can You Use Copyrighted Music on YouTube If You Don’t Monetize It?

In general, creators may use copyrighted music on YouTube if they have permission from the copyright holder. Needless to say, non-monetized creators are not excluded.

Here's the thing. A copyright violation is a violation whether you make money or not. This is because using someone else's work, even for non-commercial purposes, violates their copyright.

Thanks to YouTube's sophisticated Content ID tool, it can sniff out illegally used music from a mile away.

While some YouTubers may have gotten away with uploading copyrighted music, it's safer not to tempt fate.

And so, to avoid the back and forth that comes with resolving a copyright violation issue, it's best to avoid it entirely.

A straightforward way to do this is to seek permission from the copyright holder before uploading copyrighted music to your channel.

Can I Monetize a Video If It Is Fair Use?

Monetizing a video that falls under fair use is possible, but it highly depends on the circumstances.

Fun fact: Fair use is considered one of the most common copyright exceptions in the United States. In addition, while the rules concerning copyright exceptions are often similar around the world, they differ in some places.

Generally speaking, fair use is a legal term that specifies situations in which it is justifiable to use content without the owner's permission. This is not to say that there is a clear-cut way to determine whether you will be protected under fair use.

As unbelievable as it may sound, YouTube does not determine the grounds for fair use. Instead, the court has the final say in deciding whether or not the use of copyrighted material qualifies as fair use.

In general, courts will base their decision on four specific factors. These factors include the following:

The Purpose and Character of Use

In deciding whether or not a video qualifies as fair use, the court considers the purpose and character of the copyrighted use.

This factor specifies whether the use is for commercial or non-profit educational purposes.

Only works that add new meaning to the original material are typically considered fair use.

This means you’re less likely to qualify for fair use if your video copies someone else’s and adds nothing new.

The Nature of the Copyrighted Work

For seemingly apparent reasons, YouTube prioritizes factual content over purely fictional content. This is because the vast majority of YouTube videos are non-fictional.

That being said, you have a lower chance of being granted fair use if you’re using fictional copyrighted material rather than factual material.

The Quantity of the Original Content Used

Another factor to consider when deciding which videos are fair use is the quantity of the original content used. This is basically the size and weight of the fraction used in relation to the entire copyrighted work.

There's the common opinion that borrowing small bits from an original work does not count as YouTube copyright infringement. This, however, is not the case.

In reality, even using bits of copyrighted material may be flagged as copyright infringement.

The Effect of the Use

Before uploading a video, creators have to first consider the effect it has on the copyright holder.

The use of copyrighted material must not harm the copyright owner’s ability to profit from their original work.

The reason for this is that when using copyrighted material reduces the copyright holder's ability to profit from their original work, it is less likely to be considered fair use.

When Is It Okay To Use Copyrighted Music On YouTube?

There are a few cases where YouTube considers it “okay” to use copyrighted music.

However, this is not to say that following these processes automatically shields you from receiving copyright claims or strikes.

Below, we’ve highlighted some things you can do to make using copyrighted music more permissible on your channel.

One sure way to legally use copyrighted music is to receive permission from the copyright holder.

Unfortunately, YouTube cannot help you find and contact these copyright holders. So how you do this is all up to you. You can either research and handle this process on your own or use a lawyer’s help.

This single act helps eliminate difficulties that may arise later in the form of copyright claims or strikes.

Use a Song Released Under Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a license that allows creators to re-upload content without fear of triggering a copyright claim or strike.

When copyright holders of music release their work under creative commons, it simply means they have granted permission for their work to be reused and edited.

Content released under creative commons is typically marked with a CC BY license. All creators have to do it's to agree to its terms of use.

Consider the Factors for Fair Use

As explained earlier, four specific factors have to be considered for copyrighted content to be ruled as fair use.

Creators should always keep in mind the purpose, nature, quantity, and effect of the use on the copyright holders.

Your usage falls under fair use if it revolves around the four factors that constitute fair use.

Once a court affirms that your use of such content qualifies as such, then you have nothing to worry about.

YouTube is no respecter of persons when it comes to issuing copyright claims. As long as there is a breach of copyright law, it doesn't matter if your video is monetized or not.

Many YouTubers are yet to realize this, and because of that, have fallen victim to copyright claims and strikes.

While a copyright claim is on the mild end, a copyright strike is more severe. This strike may involve the copyright owner asking for a complete takedown for using their copyright-protected content.

The simple truth is that you don't have to monetize your channel before you receive a copyright claim and strike. All it takes is one copyrighted content to send the YouTube copyright police straight to your video.

What Happens If You Use Copyrighted Music Without Permission?

Like every rule, there's always a price to pay when you break it. The same rule applies to YouTube when creators violate copyright laws.

You should know that YouTube has gotten very good at detecting copyright violations.

When you post any content to YouTube, its content ID tool takes over. This tool checks your video against an audio and visual content database to detect if you're using any copyrighted music. It automatically flags the video with a copyright claim if any similarity is seen.

Before using copyrighted music in content, it is essential to have permission from the copyright holder whether your content is being monetized or not.

You run into a number of problems when you employ music that is protected by copyright. Some of them are as follows:

  • YouTube won't monetize your video. Though you might be eligible for monetization, you won't be able to earn money from the video.
  • YouTube can mute your video. That is, the video may still be available but without audio.
  • Your video can get blocked from being seen.
  • Copyright holders can monetize your video by running ads on it.


When uploading content on YouTube, you should keep in mind that there's always a risk involved in using someone else's copyrighted work.

Contrary to what many people think, giving credit to the copyright holder with disclaimers like "no infringement intended" does not actually shield it from not being a copyright infringement.  

Also, not monetizing your video is not an excuse to use copyrighted music without seeking permission from the copyright owner.

The process of seeking permission from the copyright owner applies to all Youtubers, regardless of whether their video is monetized or not.

So the next time you think of using any copyrighted content, remember to do it legally. Trust me; you'll be glad you did.


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