I just had a visitor write to me and ask whether it was legally acceptable, in terms of copyright, for him to post a YouTube video on his website. This article discusses some of the issues surrounding the embedding of a third-party YouTube video into your blog or site.
As I mentioned in my first article on copyright matters for webmasters, Is It Legal to Use Any Piece of Music, Image, or Article for my Website? And Other Questions on Copyright Relevant to Webmasters, I am not a lawyer. Everything I say here should be read in that light. I have a limited working knowledge of the copyright law, only sufficient for me to publish my websites. I depend on lawyers for serious matters, and you should too.
In other words, don't take this article as legal advice. It's not. In fact, as you will see when you read this article, I have a pragmatic webmaster approach to the issue rather than a legal one. And even on the practical front, I don't claim to have thought of all the possible ramifications of the issue.
Let's deal with the simplest case first.
If you're talking about a video that you created yourself and posted to YouTube, containing 100% original material, such as a home movie of your child learning to ride a bicycle, then you can of course embed it in your site (or sites) as you please. As mentioned in my other article on copyright, you are automatically the copyright owner of the original works that you create.
If a video is not created by you, it means that someone else owns the copyright on that clip. The copyright owner has the right to give you permission to republish the video or deny you the permission. If the owner wishes, they can also allow you to republish the video only if you pay them certain royalties.
When owners of videos publish them on YouTube, they are given the option to enable or disable the EMBED code for their videos. The embed code is the HTML code that is displayed at the side of a video, allowing others to insert the video into their sites or blog.
In theory, if the owner enables the EMBED code for others to use, it means that they want others to embed the video. For example, thesitewizard.com's feedback form video tutorial and CSS menu video tutorial have the EMBED code displayed on their corresponding YouTube video pages, and as such, they may be freely embedded in any site.
In practice, however, not all owners seem to know what they're doing. I recently read a report about the copyright owners of a video trying to sue sites that had embedded their YouTube video. I find this ridiculous, since if they really did not want others to embed the video, they should have disabled the EMBED code. It seems to me that if you enable the EMBED code, it means you are implicitly inviting others to put the video on their site.
I have no idea whether their case will be thrown out of court or not. But the fact that such things happen mean that you may need to exercise caution before simply embedding others' YouTube video, in case you encounter such a clueless video maker. I'm not sure what exactly you can do though, apart from asking the copyright owner for permission (assuming that you can find a way to contact the owner). Of course if the copyright owner, in addition to making the EMBED code available, also states explicitly that you can embed the video on your site, then you should have no problem there.
However, there are certain cases where you should NOT embed a YouTube video. If the video you see is of some commercial TV show or movie, even if there is an EMBED code, it is not wise to embed it. While it is of course possible that the commercial TV or movie company put up the video themselves and want others to embed it, there is also a chance that someone other than the copyright owners has illegally uploaded the video. Embedding such videos puts your site (and you) at risk. You may have the most innocent of intentions, but if the copyright owner takes you to court, you'll end up spending money, wasting time, worrying unnecessarily, just to prove your innocence. It's simply not worth it.
What I say here applies to trailers and teasers of movies and TV shows as well. And it also applies to fan videos that synthesize footage from different movies or TV shows. Even if you think that this falls under the "fair use" provision of the copyright law, and that you're actually promoting those shows for the copyright owner, the commercial TV/movie companies may not agree.
I notice that in spite of the recent report about that particular copyright owner suing others for using the YouTube embed code of his video, bloggers and sites continue to embed any YouTube videos they like. I guess not everyone takes that lawsuit seriously, or perhaps they feel that the suit is without merit. Or maybe they just don't know about it. In the majority of cases, embedding a YouTube video (where the YouTube uploader is the real copyright owner) probably doesn't cause any problems for webmasters.
But like I said above, if you want to be very sure that the video maker doesn't suddenly turn around and bite you, you may want to check their site or video description for indications that they want you to insert it. Or perhaps ask them for permission, although I have a suspicion that many will ignore your request, especially if they are YouTube-savvy. They may see you as an idiot, thinking, "Duh, why do you think I publish the EMBED code for you to use in the first place?"
Yes, I know. This puts you between a rock and a hard place. If you don't ask, you may get an ignorant video owner coming after you. If you ask, you may get classified as an imbecile.
Copyright issues aside, you should also be aware of another practical issue when embedding others' YouTube videos.
If the owner of the video decides to remove the video from YouTube, or disable it so that it will no longer show on third-party websites, the embedded video on your web page will no longer function. In other words, your page will have a rectangular space that will not display the video.
If your site is a blog, this is not really a major problem, since blog entries are by their very nature, obsolete after a period of time, and everyone knows it. If frequent surfers come across your blog entry from a year ago, and find that the video is dead or that your comments are no longer relevant, they will instantly look at the date of the entry and realize that it was an old entry. You don't have to do anything, nor do you have anything to be embarrassed about. No one expects you to be prescient.
However, if yours is a normal (non-blog) website, you may want to add that page to the list of pages on your site that you have to monitor from time to time. Normal web pages like those on thesitewizard.com are not regarded as auto-expiring, the way blog posts are, so you'll probably want to keep that page up-to-date.
As you can see from my discussion above, you will probably need to look into a few practical considerations before you place someone else's YouTube video on your site. With this information in hand, you will hopefully be better placed to make an informed decision as to whether or not to insert a third-party YouTube video into your site.
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