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From cat videos to makeup tutorials and documentaries, the range of videos on YouTube is extensive. With over 500 hours of footage uploaded every minute, it is inevitable that some material will overlap. But when does the overlap of content become copyright infringement? Can you copy a video idea from another YouTuber in your own YouTube videos? This article explains whether copyright law lets you copy a video idea from YouTube.

Does Copyright Protect a Video Idea?

For a creative work to be protected by copyright, it must fall under a subject matter recognised by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). YouTube videos are likely to come under the category of cinematographic films, but they may also fall into other copyright categories such as musical works.

However, copyright law protects the expression of ideas in a creative manner rather than the ideas themselves. So, although a YouTube video may fall under a subject matter protected by copyright, the idea for the YouTube video is not protected. Rather, copyright protects the expression of the idea, namely through a video.

For example, if a YouTuber created a “Draw my Life” video, the idea to create a “Draw my Life” video would not be protected by copyright. However, the video of the idea would. Therefore, you could create your own “Draw my Life” video without infringing the YouTuber’s copyright. In saying that, using a substantial clip from another YouTuber’s video without their permission would be copyright infringement.

How Do You Determine Whether There Has Been Copyright Infringement?

When you use a substantial part of a work without the owner’s permission, and an exception does not apply, you are infringing copyright. In the context of YouTube, you cannot use footage from another YouTuber that constitutes a ‘substantial part’ of their video.

Courts determine substantiality in qualitative terms rather than quantitative. It is a misconception that you can use 10% of a work without infringing copyright. To determine whether the footage you are using is a substantial part of someone else’s work, consider how central it is to their video. If you are using an important, essential or distinctive part of their video, you are likely to be infringing their copyright.

Are There Fair Dealing Exceptions?

As with any rule, there are exceptions to copyright protection. You can use footage from other YouTubers if it falls under one of the following fair dealing categories:

  • criticism and review;
  • reporting news;
  • parody and satire; or
  • research and study.

Courts will also consider whether the use is fair. What is ‘fair use’ is determined based on the circumstances of the case, specifically: how much content you used and what loss the copyright owner suffered.

Criticism and Review

Criticism and review involves evaluating the characteristics of copyrighted content. For example, using clips from YouTube videos to comment on the camera angles and special effects could fall under this exception. If your video has hidden motives such as commercial gain or anti-competitive behaviour, you cannot rely on this exception.

You must also give ‘sufficient acknowledgement’ to the author, so you must at least identify the author of the content and give them credit for it.

Reporting the News

Reporting the news involves using copyrighted content to display something of public interest. For example, if you use a YouTube video in your blog to inform the public about a recent newsworthy event, you may be able to rely on this exception.

However, reporting the news must be the primary objective of your blog.

Parody and Satire

You can use copyrighted material without permission from the owner for parody and satire. To rely on this exception, you must be making a satirical statement about the content rather than reproducing the material in an ironic, satirical tone.

Research and Study

You can use copyrighted material for research and study if you are using the YouTube video for a ‘diligent and systematic enquiry or investigation into a subject’. You can only use a ‘reasonable portion’ of the video.

What is reasonable is determined in the context, considering elements such as the:

  • purpose of the use;
  • nature of the work; and
  • effect on the market.

Key Takeaways

Copyright law protects the creative expression of ideas, encouraging people to produce new content. If content is subject to the protection of copyright law, the owner will have exclusive rights to the content. Copyright only covers the creative expression of an idea, not an idea itself. Therefore, you can copy a video idea from YouTube without infringing copyright, but you cannot use substantial clips without permission. If you have any questions, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.


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