Using Copyrighted and Library Content

Find out how you can legally and ethically use copyrighted and library content in your academic research, instruction, essays & writings, and creative projects. Legal disclaimer: this copyright guide is meant for informational & educational purposes only.

Library Research Guide

Fair Use, Litigations, Digital MillenniumCopyright Act (DMCA), & YouTube


This page will assist you in understanding how fair use can apply to the use of music in your video projects. It is the fourth step in using music in videos, and it is best to use the three steps before this step before relying on fair use.

Fair Use & Case Law

Fair use is the most flexible yet most ambiguous exception of U.S. copyright law. Its flexibility allows for a vast number of uses from citing someone's work in an academic paper to parody to commentary and criticism to news reporting.

If you decide to rely on fair use, you will need to consider whether you are in favor of fair use by conducting an evaluation based on the four factors of fair use.

Courts generally lean towards the defendant (the one accused of copyright infringement) when they can provide evidence (e.g., documentation) that they conducted a fair use evaluation before using the work; the courts also find favor when the use is deemed transformative.

Transformative fair use means that the individual using the copyrighted work changed or added new meaning to the original work; parody is the best example of this. Other examples can include education, scholarship, and art that adds new meaning to a work.

Keep these important points in mind if you decide to rely on fair use:

  • Be sure you have a legal copy of the content you are using.
  • Ensure that the copyrighted work you are using is crucial to your educational, scholarly, or creative objective.
  • Use only the amount needed to complete your objective.
  • If the resource can easily be replaced by another resource that is in the public domain or has a Creative Commons License, it is probably not fair use.

If you decide you would like to rely on fair use to use copyrighted music in your video, you will need to consider the four factors of fair use. Use the resources below to help you understand fair use, the four factors, and conduct your own evaluation.

For more context, check out the cases below in which fair use was litigated with respect to the use of another’s musical work.

DMCA & YouTube

By law, YouTube is required to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and remove videos that allegedly infringe on the rights of others. Usually, this happens when their content ID system identifies copyrighted music. Unfortunately, their system is not perfect and cannot determine if the alleged infringer is in favor of fair use.

Fair Use Civil Liberties & Non-Profit Groups

Should a litigation ever arise, there are groups that assist individuals who face unmerited copyright claims. These groups provide financial aid to individuals with attorney fees and other court costs when accused of alleged copyright infringement.

These groups are usually more likely to support individuals financially when they see that there has been an intentional good faith effort before the copyrighted work is used. One way to demonstrate this is by documenting your fair use evaluation before you use the work.

If your video does get flagged for copyright infringement, that does not necessarily mean it is infringing someone else's copyright. Read the Video Flagged for Copyright Infringement page for more information about the next steps you can take.