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Without going into too much detail as to the why's and wherefore's of the question (I'll put it at the bottom, question first), I am curious about the copyright laws regarding whistling copyrighted music in a youtube video. It wouldn't be the focus of the video, but it would be a passing part of the video. I'm wondering about the ability to monetize such content.

As for why I'm curious about this, I've recently been thinking about starting a youtube channel. I have no delusions of grandeur, and I don't want to be presumptuous, but it serves to be prepared. I tend to whistle, and without trying to sound cocky, I'm quite good at whistling music. The channel would be man-cave workshop type content, among other things, and I would like to include bits where you can hear me whistling or singing along with the music that I'm listening to (the video music would be non-copyrighted, but I would quiet it to hear the whistling or singing). It would be short snippets, no more than 5 or 10 seconds, and you wouldn't hear the music that I'm hearing because I use headphones. If I ever got to a point where I could monetize my channel, would this prevent me from doing that?

  • The owner of the copyright could sue for damages, though that doesn't mean that they would. – phoog Apr 6 '18 at 16:35
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Yes it's illegal. Just like singing/whistling happy birthday in public (used to be) illegal. You could be sued for untold amount of damages that could ruin your life forever (in theory).

If you whistle a mashup remix then it's legal as long as it's different enough from the original that you can't tell that they are the same song anymore.

Yes anyone can sue you if you piss them off. Disney doesn't sue all the people who sing covers of their songs because it's bad for business to piss off your fans, but they can sue if they feel like it.

This is more common sense than anything else but I suggest you look into fair use copyright law since there is a lot of misconception about it.

https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/what-is-fair-use/

  • Aside: it was probably never actually illegal to sing "Happy Birthday" -- at least not during our lifetimes, or even our parents'. Warner Bros was just over-asserting its rights. – cHao Apr 6 '18 at 20:45
  • So basically, it would probably be ok, but they could complain if they felt so inclined. It wouldn't be a mashup, I whistle or sing along as I'm listening, but at the very least I would consider whistling to be a derivative. Also, like I said, it would be a 10 second portion of a 15+ minute video, and would certainly not be the focus of the video, just of that 10 seconds. – HaLo2FrEeEk Apr 7 '18 at 9:48
  • @cHao I'll agree it's unlikely that they would sue individuals for singing it in public. However, I've heard stories of restaurants being sued for singing it. I don't trust this link but it's the what I found from a quick search. fun107.com/… I remember reading on wikipedia that there was a lot of debate for who actually owned the copyright and whether or not it was valid. – LateralTerminal Apr 13 '18 at 14:27
  • @HaLo2FrEeEk It's very Unlikely that they would complain in a civil manner. The way these companies usually pick some of these options 1. Sue you. 2. Demonetize your video. 3. Steal all profit from your video. Don't believe me? Look at what Nintendo has done in the past on YouTube (I love Nintendo but they were just being awful) – LateralTerminal Apr 13 '18 at 14:34
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    I can think of at least one example of a popular youtuber singing a copyrighted song (Your Man by Josh Turner, he was singing the part that goes "baby lock the doors and turn the lights down low", a capella.) It was a voiceover during a portion of sped-up video. I'm sure there are others I'm not remembering at the moment. By popular I mean he has nearly 800,000 subscribers and puts up a new video almost daily. – HaLo2FrEeEk Apr 13 '18 at 17:51

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