STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD: A GUIDE TO MUSIC COPYRIGHT FOR CREATORS AND BRANDS
Music can be a content creator’s best friend - whether it’s the perfect background track to tie a YouTube video together, a playlist to accompany a Twitch stream, or the latest TikTok dance trend, music and online content often feel inseparable.
However with music comes copyright regulations, and getting penalized by a social platform, with consequences ranging from blocked videos to platform bans, can stink for content creators and the brands who sponsor them.
Whether it’s a radio hit or a generically-named background track, it’s a safe assumption that almost every produced song we hear is copyrighted.
In this article, we’ll cover some basic rules for music usage on YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok, alongside some advice we give to brands and creators for sponsored campaigns.
Why YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok?
The three social platforms we chose to highlight for this article are YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok.
All three platforms regularly feature music, however, they all typically integrate music in different ways from each other.
On YouTube, for example, music is often incidental, used to fill background space in the video, while on TikTok music is often central to the content itself.
The rules around all three platforms also vary significantly from each other, creating confusion for creators.
Demystifying YouTube’s rules on copyrighted music usage
YouTube is perhaps the most well-known social platform for music copyright violations.
Both creators and viewers are all too familiar with the platform’s “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim” message.
But what is causing these copyright claims, and how can they be avoided?
In short, unpermitted use of any amount of copyrighted music in a YouTube video can lead to a copyright claim, most of which are caught and executed by YouTube’s auto-detection software.
A common myth among creators is that short excerpts of music (i.e, “5 seconds or less”) are permitted on the platform.
In reality, this is mostly untrue (while YouTube’s autodetection often does not flag these short excerpts, they do still technically violate the website’s terms of service, as well as copyright law).
YouTube copyright claims can result in one (or more) of the following consequences:
Demonetization: the creator can no longer collect YouTube ad revenue from the video.
Monetization for the copyright holder: The holder of the copyright can monetize the content and collect ad revenue themselves, or collect a share of the creator’s ad revenue.
Blocked or muted videos: the video featuring copyrighted music may be blocked or muted in certain regions (or worldwide). If unblocked, portions of the video including copyrighted music may be muted.
With all this being said, we’ve all seen YouTube videos that include music in them, so how do creators achieve this?
There are several ways that creators can approach using music in their content:
Creators can gain permission directly from the copyright holder to use their music. This is a good option in that any song can potentially be accessed, but it can be fairly difficult and time-consuming to gain this permission.
Creators can use music that is royalty-free, or in the public domain. This is a safe, reliable, and quick way to find music for a YouTube video.
Many specialty websites and playlists exist (sometimes curated by community members) with “copyright-safe” music. These may contain a bit more inherent risk than using royalty-free or public domain tracks, but is still a fairly reliable and quick way to source music, and may uncover some popular newer tracks that are safe to use.
YouTube’s own library of ad-supported music is an option for creators, which includes many popular songs, however, it is worth noting that many of these restrict monetization options for the creator. This option is best for hobbyists who aren’t concerned with ad revenue, or creators who already have a reliable source of income on their videos through ad integrations and can potentially sacrifice some or all of their YouTube ad revenue.
While we recommend against this option, especially for content that contains an ad integration, creators can also take a risk with YouTube’s auto-detection, as it can sometimes miss smaller excerpts of copyrighted music. This presents a significant risk for the creator of course, although it’s worth noting that YouTube Studio allows creators to edit their videos without re-uploading to remove copyrighted music. Of course depending on where and how the music appears in the video, a simple edit may not salvage the video.
Clearly, there are a lot of ways that creators can go about safely including music in their content.
YouTube Shorts, YouTube’s short-form content platform, has different rules, with more flexibility in using copyrighted music.
These rules are closer to TikTok’s regulations, which we’ll discuss further below.
Bringing clarity to Twitch’s copyright policies
Like YouTube, the use of any amount of copyrighted music on Twitch is prohibited.
However, the consequences can be more severe on the platform, including:
Livestream suspension: Creators can see their stream taken down in real-time, which can be particularly problematic if they have a brand deal in place for the stream.
VoD deletion: The stream VoD (the archived recording of the stream) can be deleted or muted
Account Strike: The creator may get a strike against their Twitch account, which can eventually lead to a temporary or permanent ban from the platform.
Alongside these harsher consequences, Twitch streamers are also at a higher risk for violating copyright rules due to the live nature of their content.
Inadvertently playing music, or not thinking about the copyright implications in real-time are both very reasonable mistakes that could occur on stream.
Twitch does allow for the use of copyrighted music if the songs are included in a video game that the creator is currently playing.
However, creators have noted that this system isn’t perfect, and oftentimes newer games that haven’t yet been added to Twitch’s auto-moderation system end up receiving copyright claims.
Streamers who opt to use music on-stream have many of the previously mentioned options as YouTube creators, such as using royalty-free or public domain music or using platforms that share stream-safe music (Twitch previously had their own such platform called Soundtrack, but it was discontinued in July 2023).
While we don’t recommend it as a safe and reliable option, it is also worth noting that creators have found a workaround on Twitch for including copyrighted music in their streams.
VoDs are at much higher risk for a copyright claim than the streams themselves, so creators opt to record two separate audio tracks, one for their stream and one for their VoD.
By only including music in their live stream audio, creators can play music for their fans while removing it from their archived streams and therefore steering clear of copyright violations.
This is a fairly common practice and somewhat reliable option, and one that Twitch itself appears to be well aware of, but the practice still carries some inherent risk - both because it still technically violates copyright law, and because Twitch can decide to change its moderation methods whenever it chooses to.
As such, for sponsored streams, it’s better to play it safe and avoid risking a stream suspension.
Understanding TikTok’s music copyright policies
Compared to YouTube and Twitch, TikTok is far more relaxed in its policies surrounding copyrighted music.
The platform has a massive library of music that TikTok has already worked out licensing agreements for, which includes 30-60 second excerpts of many popular and current songs.
These are completely safe for creators to use in any type of content.
One item of note with TikTok’s sound library is that these sounds are not necessarily safe to use on Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.
While often creators don’t experience any issues posting across all three of these platforms, it’s still something to be aware of, especially when it comes to paid campaigns.
As with YouTube and Twitch, unauthorized use of copyrighted music still has consequences on the platform, but they are far less harsh, with most creators experiencing, at worst, having the video muted or removed.
This is far less impactful than Twitch’s penalties, and due to the bite-sized nature of TikTok content, it’s also often less harmful than having a full YouTube video taken down or demonetized.
Additionally, TikTok’s auto-detection is far less scrupulous, allowing more copyrighted content to slide by.
Once again, this is a risk we’d suggest avoiding for paid campaigns, but it is notable for creators who rely on programs such as the TikTok Creator Fund for revenue.
Being a platform highly dependent on music for its content, TikTok has other music-related programs in place as well.
TikTok has a business-specific music library so that business accounts, which are subject to even harsher regulations, can safely and easily include copyrighted music in their content.
The platform also recently introduced “Work with Artists,” a program in which artists and record labels can pay creators who meet certain eligibility criteria (most relevantly, 50k+ followers) to use their music.
So, how might this affect your sponsored campaigns?
Throughout this article, we’ve highlighted why the use of music in content can be a point of confusion and frustration for creators but also supplied some options for how to safely incorporate music into content.
We’d like to reiterate that in our extensive experience, it’s best to avoid any of the sneakier “workarounds” when it comes to paid campaigns.
While using short segments of music on YouTube, removing music from VoDs on Twitch, or rolling the dice on TikTok’s forgiving auto-detection may all be okay options for unsponsored content, when it comes to paid campaigns it’s best to avoid this risk altogether.
If content is removed or muted by a platform, even temporarily, the consequences can include having to create make-good content or reduced payment.
On that note, however, another takeaway we’d like to highlight is the importance of reliable revenue streams, such as ad integrations, to creators.
No matter how careful creators are, false copyright claims (often a result of unreliable autodetection) and honest mistakes will happen.
Demonetization is a much less scary prospect for creators when they already have another reliable stream of revenue on their content!
We hope this article has helped to demystify copyright regulations on social platforms.