I recently ran into an interesting back and forth between quite a few people in youtube comments, and it was the topic I'm interested in writing about: whether it would be a book or just post it online, I'm still not sure.

Might possibly get sued for using their comments? It was quite a lot of people, I wasn't planning to put their name or picture or even put their comments word for word, but rather the main point and most importantly their experience in the subject matter (no personal information). If I accidentally put something that's way more specific than it should be, could one or more of these commenters sue me? At what point does fair use stop being on my side?

I don't live in the US; I'm somewhere in south east asia, does that matter?? I'm assuming most of the people are Americans.

2 Answers 2


Ideas can't be copyrighted.

Implementations of ideas can be patented, but that involves a significant process far beyond a Youtube comment.

It sounds like you're not after their exact-word endorsement per se... you just think they have a good idea and want to use it. That's fine, just don't use their words exactly if you don't want to credit them.

That's the best way to do it regardless: ”many people online say <your originally written restatement of the idea here>." Note the restatement does not go in quotes. So it is

  • Joe Blow says "poutine is the best".
  • Many commenters say poutine is wonderful.

Here's the thing. If many people are saying the same idea, who has standing to sue you for that idea? No one of them more than any other. Can you imagine 500 people who all agree on something, filing a class action against yet another person who also agrees with that? It would be absurd and would be promptly dismissed as frivolous.


One always turns to the terms of service, where Youtube (or some other provider) sets out the rules. Stackexchange requires a certain kind of permission to copy to be granted to others, so that I can quote user content from here as long as I abide by CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Youtube has a slightly different sub-licensing condition:

You also grant each other user of the Service a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to access your Content through the Service, and to use that Content, including to reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works, display, and perform it, only as enabled by a feature of the Service (such as video playback or embeds). For clarity, this license does not grant any rights or permissions for a user to make use of your Content independent of the Service.

That means that you cannot legally copy comments using ordinary cut-and-paste, but you can make comments available via embedding (unlikely to be how you intended to redistribute comments).

You might have available a "fair use" defense when you get sued, in fact if you don't actually quote text (or quasi-quote, where you copy but change a few words), there is no issue. You could say for example "7 users were upset with this, and 12 were pleased", since that isn't copying their content. Fair use does not start out on your side, you have to prove that your use is "fair" under US law (which is where you would be sued). You basically need to hire a lawyer that specializes in finding that line, though a basic guideline is that you getting money or them losing money from your copying is not in your favor, and large-scale copying does not work in your favor.

  • -1 because copyright issues of fair use or licensing do not matter to the situation as described in the OP (reuse "the main point" rather than a specific structure of writing). As the other answer says, ideas cannot be copyrighted, and it is certain that neither Youtube nor the commenters can successfully pursue the OP for copyright infringement. (Whether the Youtube ToS can impose non-copyright restrictions is another matter, but it is not addressed in this answer.)
    – KFK
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 11:41

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