How To Legally Use Copyrighted Music On YouTube

This article on using copyrighted music on YouTube was written originally for the blog at Lickd.io. I repost it here with some updates, and encourage you to check out Lickd if you’re a video maker or musician! Also – notification: I sometimes use affiliate links. Some purchases may earn me a commission! 🙂

It’s 2AM. You’ve finally figured out the edit on your brand-new YouTube post, and boy is this one going to kill when you go public. There’s only one problem. You’ve been editing  to your favorite song in the world and it works perfectly, but you don’t have the rights to it. Sure, you could just throw it on there and hope for the best, but you’re sure this video will hit a million views soon, and you’d rather be on the up-and-up.

Now you’re wondering how to legally use copyrighted music on YouTube. A little Googling and you’ve landed here. We’re glad to see you, and we’d love to help! So, let’s dive into that very question.

What does “copyrighted” mean, anyway?

Before we start, let’s make sure we understand what a copyrighted song is. Technically, it’s every song that was ever written, including the ones that never got recorded. That’s right, EVERY song is copyrighted, automatically.

What does that mean? It means that creative works are always protected under the law, whether the writers are famous rock stars or bedroom hobbyists, and regardless of whether they’ve registered it. That protection means that no one can use that creative work (a song, in this case) for any purpose without permission.

Sadly, that means you’re not supposed to use it in your YouTube video without asking and in most cases, once you ask you’ll have to pay. If that song happens to be by your roommate, then knock and their door and ask, buy them a taco or whatever else they ask for, and you’re golden. It really is that simple when boiled down.

How music licensing works – is it really that simple?

Yes and no. The concept of licensing is indeed very simple. If you can get permission from the owner of a piece of music, that’s all you need.

In practice, though, the music industry is chalk full of red tape and odd complications. Chances are the song you want is represented by a record label or publisher. Or to be more accurate, the recording is owned by a label, and the song itself is owned by a publisher.

Now you’ve got to figure out WHO to ask for permission, and if it’s a big company – say, Warner Brothers – the price may be exorbitant.

That’s not all, either. When it comes to licensing music, there are several types of payment. Earlier, when you talked your roommate into letting you use their song for a taco, you negotiated an up-front licensing fee.

That may not be all your roommate wants. Perhaps they also want a burrito every time your video is viewed. Or better yet, a percentage of all your ad revenue. That’s a backend fee, and may or may not be asked for.


That’s not the end of the story. There’s also a little thing called a royalty, and that’s a quagmire of complexity too big to dive into here. Suffice it to say that if you’re broadcasting, performing, or otherwise putting a piece of music out there that’s not yours, you could be subject to another fee, charged and collected by a performing rights organization (PRO).

These organizations collect fees for various “performances” like radio broadcasts, television uses, live performances and sometimes YouTube use. These fee structures are partly dictated by law and partly set by the PROs.

If that’s not complicated enough, other companies collect royalties from digital usage such as satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, and so on. And yes, THAT could include your video too.

By this point, you’re may be tempted to throw caution to the wind and just use the song. Maybe nobody will notice! Well…


Enter YouTube ContentID. To put it simply, when recordings are registered with content ID, their digital fingerprint is put into a database. If you upload a song to YouTube that’s been registered in this database, YouTube will automatically flag your video for having “copyrighted content”.

In most cases you can still post the video, but you can’t make money with it. If you happen to have permission from the owner of the song, you’ll have to lodge a dispute with YouTube, which can be tricky and time consuming.

So, throwing caution to the wind isn’t an option, and being above board is getting to be a lot of work. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easier way?

Get the problem Lickd

It turns out, there is an easier way. There’s a kind of company called, you guessed it, a licensing company. You happen to be reading this on one now. These companies (OUR company!) negotiate with artists and labels ahead of time, remove the content ID obstacle, and even gather and present music in an easy-to-browse fashion. A licensing company like Lickd is a one-stop shop for your music needs. Our whole vision is to build a world where there are no barriers to creating the best online video content. We make it affordable and easy to get the music you need, and you do not have to send us a taco.

So by all means, do your best to understand how music licensing works, and why it’s important. After all, musicians are Creators too. But if you’re ready to streamline this crucial part of your process, go ahead and browse our catalog of over 7000 songs now!

Happy creating!

If you have questions or want to talk, just hit me up on Facebook @AaronJTrumm or Instagram

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