How To Protect Your Videos on YouTube

September 26, 2016
6 mins read

Several years ago, come every Sunday night, I would follow the same routine; before shutting down my pc, I would YouTube search UglyMcGregor (my channel name) and change the filter to Uploaded This Week. This would often produce a small number of videos from UFC fans who had made ‘diss’ videos against fighter Conor McGregor, but sometimes, I would find a non-UFC video would appear and this likely meant one of two things; UglyMcGregor was added to the description or the keywords. Either one usually indicated someone had taken my content, uploaded it, and added my name with a credit or fair use disclaimer. And as of 2009, only once has someone taken my content and used it correctly under the fair use defense (they were analyzing the 5D footage).

Often, the swiped material was a lucid and abstract video titled Depths, which seems to be the perfect concoction of material for music videos, mixes, and worship videos.

Often, the material was reuploaded by a film student with little to no audience, and even up until now, those videos may have less than 250 views. If the video isn’t monetized, I’m not going to be an internet bad guy and slap their account with a takedown notice. Although, and well within your right to do so, other content creators may want all stolen media removed.

However, when it wasn’t young students uploading my work, It was musicians or music mix channels with a significant audience base. And in return, generating revenue either through ad revenue or directly linking their music to purchase.

For filmmakers and small online content creators, this has been a persistent problem for years as there has been no real way to battle the misuse of one’s content. After all, I could only find out that my content was stolen because the offenders thought by adding “Video Credit: UglyMcGregor” would allow them to monetize the media. There’re surely countless uploads that remain invisible. As small creators don’t have access to the content ID system that megacorporations, musicians, and film studios have, it was really down to finding stolen content yourself or being informed by a loyal viewer.

Instant Piracy

The way content is shared changed in the 2000s, and it’s never been the same since. With a single click, your content can be shared around the world, seen by millions and millions, with and without your permission. With the boom of internet anonymity, proxies, video downloaders, there’s virtually no way of keeping track of where your video has gone once you have uploaded it to the net. How can you battle against this?

Ultimately, there is no real fight you can put up against the piracy of your videos. The film and music industry have been battling piracy since its inception. Millions of dollars and thousands of lawyers have tried to put a stop to bootlegging, then DVD copying, and now illegal downloading. With the new step in the advancement of technology, the ease of obtaining copyrighted material has never been easier.

This music video here features a few snippets from one of my uploaded videos. No permission was granted, no request was received

Copyright screenshot

I was credited in the description, but contrary to popular belief, crediting a creator does not give you a legal standpoint. YouTube states:

Just because you purchased content doesn’t mean that you own the rights to upload it to YouTube. Even if you give the copyright owner credit, posting videos that include content you purchased may still violate copyright law.

Additionally, recording a television show, video game, concert or other performance with your phone, camera or microphone doesn’t mean that you own all rights to upload it to YouTube. This is true even if the event or show you recorded was open to the public. For example, recording a concert of your favorite band does not necessarily give you the right to upload the video without permission from the appropriate rights owners.

You may have heard of the term Fair use and that it allows you to use copyright-protected material in your videos. It does to some extent, but it is important to note that Fair Use is a legal defense, not an exemption.  Even so, taking one’s work and putting it into a music video doesn’t even fall under fair use. If the video was for educational purposes or was a criticizing of a video (and even then only at clips at a time), the uploader may have a defense.

Nonetheless, people still do it, and it is worse is when it falls under Facebook’s uploading system, which is now commonly referred to as Freebooting. Destin from Smarter Every Day has produced a video perfectly summing up what Freebooting is about. “Freebooting is when someone downloads your video and uploads it to Facebook. As Facebook is the social media central hub, views amount in next to no time, and who makes the money? Not the content creator, not the uploader; Facebook. Every penny made from adverts being exposed to viewers of the video increases the revenue of Facebook.”

With that in mind, are we actually in a position to even stop the downloading? Not at all; as previously mentioned, the music industry, along with the film industry, has been trying to do it for years. One can hope that with an ever-increasing advancement in technology that one day your work will be protected somehow, but for now, here are some options you can pursue to protect your work online.

Channel Copyright Dashboard

Channel copyright screenshot from YouTube.
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A few years back, YouTube introduced the channel copyright dashboard found in the Creator Studio. This is a dashboard that lists videos that have been taken from your channel and uploaded to another creator’s channel.

Everything is automated. Using complex algorithmic and AI software, YouTube will scan uploaded content and inform you on this dashboard if there is a possible match. Even when people have flipped, editing, and changed the color of the footage, it will still appear in the dashboard.
From here, you can apply for the removal of the video, and you can do this with two different actions. You can request that the user removes the video, and YouTube gives them seven days to do so.

Alternatively, you can request an instant removal in which the uploader will receive a copyright strike on their account.


YouTube offers the ability to place a watermark over your footage either at the start, end, or for the entire duration of the video. Unfortunately, the watermark is removed from video downloaders. So it is essential that you double up on watermarking your work.

Be inventive here; link it to a social media account or your website. My Twitter tag is my actual name, so I’ve watermarked my videos with my Twitter handle. I place this just above the letterboxing, so if anyone will try and crop it out, they will have a small aspect ratio. You may worry about it disrupting the viewer, but a good dozen of your favorite cable shows have their little watermark appearing on the bottom edge in and out of the show, and most viewers hardly notice.

Screenshot of Adobe Premiere Pro project.

It is also advisable to place an ident at the start and the end of your video. This not only reinforces brand identity but if anyone wants to download your video and claim it as their own then it’s going to require extra legwork than just simply downloading and re-uploading. Now the downloader must edit out your idents, sometimes this extra bit of work is enough to deter the downloaders.

Actively Search For Your Content

At some point each week, I’ll spend 30 minutes searching YouTube for my name. As stated earlier, people often think that putting credits in the channel will exempt them from copyright claims. It doesn’t. If people have put your name in the tags or description, it will show up in the search results. Suppose these uploaders haven’t asked you or are using your footage in a way that doesn’t fall under fair use. Ask them to remove it, no reply.

YouTube offers an automated program like this called Content ID. To apply, you must fill in this form. However, there are criteria to meet. The Content ID system is for more established users who upload regularly and are prone for their videos to be swiped.

Suspect List

Take a note of people who ask permission to use your footage. I license out a lot of my clips through a stock footage website, so there may be a time when I don’t even hold full creative control over a specific clip and, therefore, cannot give permission. The person who is asking may go ahead and steal the clip anyway. Take a note of their YouTube account and follow them up once in a while.

That is about all you can really do to prevent your work from being downloaded without your permission. It sucks. It really does. You put hours, days, or even weeks into making a video, and then somebody else can come along and put it in their video which may be making them money.

It seems like this isn’t a fight you’re going to win, but you can help strengthen the stronghold.

Lewis McGregor

Lewis McGregor is a filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.