Posting Musical Performances on YouTube

By Robyn Guilliams

Dear Law and Disorder,

What are the copyright issues in posting a performance of a piece of music on YouTube for global streaming?  And, since people can easily download YouTube content, what are the implications for the person who’s posted it, or the downloaders for that matter?

Before answering your question, I want to clarify that there are two separate copyrights in a videotape of a musical performance – the copyright in the music contained in the video, and the copyright in the video itself.  The copyright is usually owned by the creator of a work.  In the case of the musical composition, the copyright would be owned by the composer (or perhaps the composer’s publisher, if he or she has one.)  In the case of the video, the owner of the copyright would be whoever created the video (and NOT the individual performers – which is a common misconception!)

Now, on to your question…  The answer depends on who owns the copyrights to the video, and the underlying music in the video.  If you make a video of yourself performing your own music, and you post that video on YouTube, there are no copyright issues.  Because you own the music being performed, AND you own the video, you have the right to post that video on YouTube or anywhere else on the Internet.

However, the answer changes if you don’t own the music.  If the musical copyright is owned by someone else, you would need that person’s permission to perform the music (i.e., a performance license for the music), to videotape the performance (a synchronization license), AND to broadcast that video via the Internet (a performance license for the video).  Of course, it’s not necessary to have three separate documents, but you would want to be sure you have all of the permissions you need in one license!

The answer also depends on who owns the videotape of the performance.  As noted above, the owner of a video usually will be the person who creates the video.  So, if you perform your own music, but someone else records that performance, then that person will own the video, and you would need that person’s permission to post the video on YouTube.

Downloads implicate yet another potential license requirement – a distribution license!  If you don’t have a right to distribute the video – or the music contained in the video – both you and the illegal downloader could be liable to the copyright holders.

The moral here is that, before posting any audio or video recording on the Internet, be sure you have all of the necessary permissions – preferably in writing!


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The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!

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