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For a school assignment we need to listen to a song on YouTube and take screen shots of it. Out of curiosity, is it legal? I thought it was technically copyright infringement to listen to a song on YouTube. Does it matter if the song is put on by the company that owns it, like Vevo?

If yes, then what's the difference between YouTube and Spottily or similar.

  • Spotify went and got the rights for all the music they host. – ratchet freak May 26 '16 at 11:22
  • To clarify ratchet's statement: Spotify and other similar services purchase licenses from music production companies to redistribute their content in a digital streaming format under certain conditions outlined in their licensing contract. So no, it is not illegal to use Spotify, because they have purchased the rights to run the service that they run, similar to how a radio station has to pay ASCAP licensing fees in order to play music over the air. – animuson May 27 '16 at 1:48
  • There is almost no restriction on listening to copyrighted music; the person infringing copyright is the person sharing the music. More generally, copyright law punishes those making unauthorized copies, not those receiving the copies. Now, taking screenshots may be illegal, although those probably fall under academic free use. – Ask About Monica May 27 '16 at 17:49
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YouTube uses a system called Content ID to find copyrighted content. If copyrighted content is uploaded to YouTube and matched against the Content ID database, YouTube will either

  • block access to the content
  • show adverts with the video for the copyright holder to earn revenue
  • allow the video with no advertising

where the action to take is decided by the copyright holder. As such, the copyrighted content is perfectly legal and explicitly permitted for use in the video by the copyright holder (this system even applies to other videos that use the copyrighted content as, for example, background music - personally I had some song parodies recorded over the original backing tracks that were caught by the same system).

Vevo is a specific service for music producers to upload their own music to an "official" channel. If you see a Vevo channel and it's got the "verified" check mark next to it then you can be certain that it's an official channel operated by or on behalf of the original content producers.

For content not present in the Content ID database or identified by the Content ID system, I'm not sure what the legality is. YouTube has typically operated on a policy of "hold no responsibility for illegal content and wait for the copyright holder to request takedown", which they will then honour.

In any case, you cannot be in legal trouble for watching/listening to copyrighted content on YouTube. The legal responsibility falls on YouTube for distributing the content to you, and on the original uploader for copying and uploading the content. AFAIK copyright laws apply to the person producing a copy (either modified or unmodified) of the copyrighted content or providing a copy to someone else, not the person receiving or consuming the content. Watching a video online does not constitute producing a copy (downloading does, however).

It's also very likely that your use of the copyrighted content would fall under fair use (this applies particularly to the "take screenshots of it" part), as it is private and non-commercial use for study/educational purposes.

  • Thanks to the DMCA, YouTube doesn't have much liability either. It's mostly on the uploader. – D M Nov 15 '17 at 18:37

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