Is it okay to use YouTube videos in your course? What about copyright? I get inquiries like this often. Here I’ll share the most common questions from instructors and the answers I provide.

Q: Should I be concerned about relying on a link to a YouTube video for essential course content? There are quite a few YouTube videos on a topic I cover in my course, and all of them are better than what I could put together on my own, given the constraints on my time and technical expertise.

A: There are several considerations when using YouTube videos:

  •  YouTube videos may be taken down at some later date, and this would be a problem if you are relying on them for essential course content. However, you say there are “quite a few” videos on this topic. If the video you select for the course were taken down, would you be comfortable using a comparable video? A related consideration is, does the YouTube channel that posted the video own the rights to it? Or, have they pirated someone else’s content? We don’t want to share pirated videos with students because this models inappropriate intellectual property practices and because these videos are more likely to be removed by YouTube for copyright violation.
  • Another consideration is that students have come to your course with the expectation that you will offer a unique educational experience tailored to the context of their university and the degree program they’re enrolled in. When presented with YouTube videos, some students may ask, why am I paying for a course delivered by a professional university instructor if I can get the content for free on YouTube? Students may not be aware of the time and attention that you have put into finding, sequencing, and providing context around external videos. Consider balancing the use of external videos with your own materials so that you are still able to communicate your individual teaching presence.

Q: Am I infringing on copyright in some way by including YouTube videos in my course?

A: By linking to or embedding YouTube videos on your course site, you aren’t infringing on copyright. The YouTube video channel still controls the linked content, not you; you haven’t downloaded or made a copy of the video, nor have you stored it on your own device or the university’s servers. By driving traffic to YouTube’s website, you are actually helping YouTube and the content creator make money and/or get views. You may have heard of programs that allow you to download a YouTube video so you can retain a copy to share with students, just in case it gets taken down. Doing so would very likely infringe on copyright and would be a violation of YouTube’s terms of service. So stick to sharing links or embedding!

YouTube channel link location
The channel here, indicated with blue brackets, is an institutional entity, but you can click the channel name to learn more about it if you’re uncertain.

Q: How can I determine if a video has been pirated?

A: Take a closer look at the channel that uploaded the video. You can find the channel’s name listed beneath the video title. Do you recognize an institutional entity that would logically be the owner/creator of the video? Or, is the channel title just some person’s nickname? Click on the channel’s hyperlinked name so that you can browse the other videos and playlists the channel offers, as well as any information provided on its About page. If you find a random list of videos that don’t have a common theme, or no description is available on the About page, the channel may have pirated the video you had planned on using.

Q: I understand that linking to a pirated YouTube video isn’t a great thing to model to students, but what if this is the only video on my topic? Can I get in trouble for pointing students to pirated content? And what are the chances that YouTube or the true content owner will succeed in getting this pirated video taken down?

A: You haven’t pirated the video, so you’re not liable, but again…this isn’t recommended. Still, you may be surprised to learn that YouTube will often retain pirated content. If the content owner agrees, YouTube monetizes the video with ads and it continues to be hosted on the pirating channel with the revenue going to the true owner (and in some cases a portion to the pirating channel). In 2017 most copyright claims resulted in monetization, so those pirated videos you’re interested in might not be taken down after all. That said, there’s no easy way to know if a pirated video has been monetized and sanctioned by YouTube and the content owner; ads will appear on videos that haven’t been monetized as well as on those that have. Conclusion: you’d be better off finding a video from a legitimate source or creating your own content!

Resources

YouTube: How can rights holders make copyright claims?

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