Jun 222014

Would you like your students to watch YouTube videos – but legal ones?  Or are you from a school or institution that’s trying to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to videos? If so, this post is for you…

Can I play any video if it’s for educational purposes?

No. Whether a video is played in an educational or not-for-profit context makes no difference. To avoid breaking the law, you need the permission of the people who own or hold the copyright. If someone has posted a YouTube video and made it public, that’s basically like an invitation to view it. So an important question is, did they have the right to post the video? Unfortunately there are a lot of illegal videos on YouTube posted by people who don’t own the rights. But fortunately it’s pretty easy to work out which ones are legal and which ones aren’t.


Maybe a video is legal if it has YouTube’s ads?

If it has ads, someone has claimed copyright and is getting paid – so you’re on pretty safe ground. It can still be tricky because music unions have claimed rights on all sorts of videos that don’t necessarily belong to them, but ads are an indication that you’re probably looking at a legal video.

What about movie trailers and clips, and music videos?

As a general rule, movie clips and trailers are available to licensed distributors before the date of release and then for around 3-6 months after it’s been released. It varies from studio to studio. If you want to share movie trailers and clips,  link to the movie studios’ own YouTube site. You can be sure that they’re going to be legal then. Bear in mind that the videos get taken down regularly, so they may disappear after a few months. (The movie trailers at www.simpleenglishvideos.com are legal and licensed.)
It’s much the same for music videos. If you’re watching a song from the official site of the artist or recording label, you can be pretty sure you’re doing it right.

How else can we tell if a video was posted legally?

– Is it a TED talk or TED Ed piece? If so, that’s probably fine.

– Check the written details underneath the video (if there are any). If the poster (the person who posted the video) says it comes from an ebook or a movie and they don’t say they have permission to post it, then you probably shouldn’t be linking to it.

– Check the poster out. What’s their name and what do you see when you click on the link to their YouTube channel?

  • Was the video posted by an organization or company? There are lots of legal videos posted by bonafide organizations that you can link to without problems.
  • Is it an individual who appears in the video? If it looks like the video was posted by its content creator then again, it’s probably fine.
  • But what if the name of the individual seems to have no relation to the content? And when you check their channel you see other videos made in different styles? Then probably you are looking at videos that were posted illegally and you shouldn’t be sharing them.
  • Are you looking at a clip from a TV show or news programme that seems a bit fuzzy and/or seems to have been posted by an individual who has no relation to a TV channel or network? Then chances are the poster recorded it off air and doesn’t have the rights.
  • If  in doubt, message the poster and find out. Ask where they got the video from and whether they have the permission of the copyright owner to post it.

clickonPosterIsn’t it hard to tell if a video is legal or not?

No, it’s usually pretty obvious. Armed with the info above and  a bit of common sense, in practice it’s easy. It’s rather like looking at your emails and recognizing which ones are spam. Sure, you may get it wrong sometimes, but mostly you’ll be right. (In fact, I think spotting illegal Youtube videos is easier than spotting spam these days.)

And let me be clear – I am by no means an expert on copyright law. Over the years, I’ve sometimes found myself researching bits of it,  but that’s just made me more conscious of how complex it is and how much I don’t know. But I still think it’s easy to stay legal and follow the law, so I offer these tips hoping they might help my colleagues.

Also there are lots of issues I haven’t touched on here such as YouTube’s licenses (standard and creative commons), what constitutes a public performance (I’ve never been able to find a clear answer for that for some of the contexts I encounter) and whether it’s OK to download a video to play later in your class without the permission of the rights owner (probably not).

Over to you…

Please bear in mind that I could be wrong about some of these things and other folks may have other thoughts, which I’ll be very interested to hear. Copyright laws vary from country to country too. Please add corrections and extra information to the comments. And for more accurate and definitive answers, please consult a lawyer.

 Posted by at 3:29 am

  3 Responses to “Can I legally show this video to my class?”

  1. Thanks Vicki,
    This is such a complex issue and is one that needs clarification for so many teachers. We are often happy to find something we can use in class or pass on to our learners and don’t always know how to find out if the video is one we are allowed to use or not. Thanks for setting out these clear guidelines.

  2. […] I’ve written about EFL and copyright before. It seems only sensible to give creators their due and avoid getting sued for stealing stuff. Crikey – who wants to steal stuff? Isn’t it just common sense? Well yes, but actually copyright law is also pretty complex and understanding the basics can be quite a challenge. So here’s a great video from The Consultants-E that explains the basics. A big thank you to Gavin Dudedney and Nicky Hockly for helping to make us all more digitally literate. […]

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