Recently I've found out that copyright owners are claiming profits of YouTube videos where allegedly their content is used. Specifically, this video was claimed to be a copyright infringement.

I'm aware of other questions related to copyright and YouTube policies, however my question is very specific. In the claimed video YouTuber plays on acoustic guitar for 25 seconds without even singing what for me looks like a quotation.

Is there anything in US copyright law regulating how long and in which exact form (exact record or performance etc.) a musical quote can be, if such concept is a thing at all? While this video is on a commercial channel it's quite evident that guy did it for educational purposes.

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1 Answer 1


"But he doesn't even sing!"

If music only consisted of lyrics, you'd have a point. But you already said exactly how the infringement happened: playing the guitar.

The content usage is clear: the video uses the song's melody, and therefore is infringing on copyright.

It doesn't matter how long or little is played. Copyright infringement suits have been successful when only seconds of the original work were copied, because that short section is important enough to require protection, and its use to deserve compensation (in the extreme, because it comprises the entire work).

While this video is on a commercial channel it's quite evident that guy did it for educational purposes.

If done for commercial purposes, this is almost surely the deciding factor over others in USA fair use, and clearly disallows UK fair dealing, and in most other jurisdictions would tend to make it disallowed usage as well.

Put more simply, you can't justify infringing copyright in the material used for teaching when you're getting paid for that teaching, any more than you can justify theft of real or tangible property on the same basis.

  • "Copyright infringement suits have been successful when only a second of the original work was copied..." Can you cite an example of such a suit? Mar 6, 2020 at 20:09
  • Thank you for the answer! Can you support it with any links to acts and regulations one can explore?
    – shabunc
    Mar 6, 2020 at 20:09
  • Can't find where the case records are, but possibly I'm misremembering the length (definitely on the order of seconds, as it made up the entire effective work). Will genericise until I can verify specifically. @NateEldredge
    – user4657
    Mar 6, 2020 at 20:25
  • 1
    I know there was a case where a judge ruled that the defendant hadn't used enough of the original material for it to be fair use, because the use wasn't commentary or transformative. Mar 6, 2020 at 22:28
  • 1
    Length is not the determining factor - distinctiveness is. If Beethoven was still under copyright the first 4 notes of his 9th symphony would be enough to be infringing
    – Dale M
    Mar 7, 2020 at 3:19

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