Copyright and Practical Issues for Webmasters and Bloggersby Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com
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.
Your Own Video
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.
Videos Created By Other People
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 Share button for their videos. The Share button, when clicked, provides the HTML code that allows others to insert the video into their sites or blog.
In theory, if the owner enables the Share button, 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 Share button displayed on their corresponding YouTube video pages, and as such, these videos 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 Share button. It seems to me that if you enable the Share button, 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 (via the Share button), 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 the Share button is enabled, 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.