On youtube, can i do the following whilst collecting ad revenue?

Teach someone to play a copyrighted song on guitar (i.e. ed sheeran)?

Is this an infringement of copyright? I have found some research that suggests it may be ok:

1 Answer 1


In order to answer your question we have to parse out an exact meaning for the individual fragments of the question: "Teach someone to play a copyrighted song"

  • What do we mean by "teach someone" here?

YouTube is a public medium unless you're using some unlisted videos or have some kind of external website where you are using YouTube strictly as a video hosting service. There is no one-on-one teacher-to-student interaction here outside of the possibility of some post-facto comments about the video.

Is it more apt to say "publish an educational demonstration for ad revenue" for this part of your question?

  • Now we can evaluate the second part of your question, "[Teach someone] to play a copyrighted song on guitar?"

Are you teaching guitarists what the notes of the song (the score) are or are you teaching them specific guitar techniques?

In complaints responsible for taking guitar tablature sites offline NMPA President David Israelite asserted that "[u]nauthorised use of lyrics and tablature deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living and is no different than stealing." (Song sites face legal crackdown, BBC News)

While you are adding your own educational value by demonstrating specific instructional techniques you are also putting the songwriter's score out in a published and public format outside of their control and earning ad revenue in the process.

The 2011 NMPA royalty sharing agreement you linked to was just one settlement as part of ongoing litigation between the groups—with the most recent being a large settlement related to revenues related to "cover songs". In no way does the existence of such a settlement mean that you aren't still expected to obtain permission or seek agreeable revenue sharing terms for use of any material.

Guitar instructors have been getting paid to teach their students to play copyrighted songs on guitar for decades but the difference here is that you are seeking to publish videos of yourself playing the artists' content and getting paid for people to watch them.

Opinion: While I've learned a lot from these types of instructional videos myself and would love to make a "fair use" argument for you here I think it would still require you to make an effort in good faith to seek permission to use an artist's content. For artists within the mainstream music industry this may be practically impossible for you as an individual to negotiate but you could have luck with more progressive artists who are working on the digital frontiers outside of the industry.

  • 4
    When you quote someone, can you please cite the quotation?
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 19:25

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