YouTube and copyright infringement

I was reading some previous posts about YouTube and copyright infringement. I’ve read and thought about this but would like feedback on my thoughts. If a person regularly listened to music via YouTube videos (let’s say two hours a day) with no regard to whether songs were most likely uploaded without the copyright owner’s permission or not, I am thinking that would not be sinful because if it is available on YouTube it may be available because the copyright owners do not have a problem with it still being up. (More on that last bit below.) Thoughts?

I am asking because I have a loved one who listens to music via YouTube with no regard to source (I don’t know how much so I picked two hours/day for this question) and I often listen with them, so I want to know for my sake and theirs.

I know we are obliged under pain of mortal sin to fraternally correct the grave sins of others if the situation meets the criteria on

Contrary to @Fan_of_Trent (You Tube and copyright) & @Cmc1972 (Is it a sin to watch music videos on Youtube that infringe copyright), I think file sharing is a sin (unless public domain or you own the rights) and if what was shared/obtained was expensive (individually or total, but I don’t know what $ amount would reach this level) then it’d be grave matter. Just like I think stealing a candy bar would be venial but a lot of money would be grave. (However, I don’t know where the line between venial and grave in stealing is, my understanding is that it’s not just the amount but also how much harm is caused [& maybe other factors too?].) You are getting access to something without the owner’s permission - that is stealing, and stealing is a sin. Even if you obtained it for personal use and you are not intending to share it more or profit from it, it is still wrong. And I think file sharing is still wrong even if you are using it to access a TV show that comes on a channel you pay for but you just missed the show airing - you are still using illegal means. Illegal means are still wrong even if it’s for something you already paid for. If you can’t access/use something you paid for, you still should not use illegal means to get it. (However, I do think you could directly give someone a copy of a song if you bought an additional copy for each copy you gave away and let each person know that copy had been paid for. Someone let me know if you disagree though).

@bbentrup (Is it a sin to watch music videos on Youtube that infringe copyright), I disagree with “It is NOT theft if the author doesn’t care to protect against downloading”. I don’t know how a person would effectively protect against downloading in general. If you meant to refer to copyright owners who don’t take action against things posted on YouTube, I think that’s different, see below.

((This is not legal advice, do not consider it as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. Only get legal advice from a qualified person.))

CONTINUED BELOW because I ran out of space.

Is copyright infringement even a sin? The Church has no law regarding that. That’s entirely a civil law. I mean was Jesus infringing copyright when he cited the Psalms? Was Paul infringing copyright when he cited Greek philosophers?

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Pt. 2

I think it’s reasonable to assume a person with a random username probably didn’t ask permission before uploading (and even more so if what is written in the description makes it seem even more like they didn’t ask permission to upload), but how do you know if the copyright owners actually have a problem with it still being up? Based on it seems like music partners can set up an account and new uploads can be automatically scanned for copyright and they can choose what action to take. So copyright owners may have this set up and decided to leave things up (they can track, monetize, or block things). And they also may have searched for things uploaded previously (like searching by artist name or song names and seeing what comes up on YouTube) and decided whether to report to YouTube or not. How would you know whether either of these happened or not? Can you assume stuff currently on YouTube is stuff copyright owners do not want to take action against (and therefore stuff they’re ok with being on YouTube)? (@Cmc1972 [Is it a sin to watch music videos on Youtube that infringe copyright], if you did KNOW it’s illegal, then it is your responsibility to avoid it.)

How much money would the parties involved actually be making if you listened to an official YouTube version or Spotify or similar? Does the amount that adds up to over time from listening to music a couple hours a day possibly add up to grave matter?

Note: I am definitely not advising anyone to sin. If your conscience or a reliable person has told you this is a sin, don’t do it. But I have had both a scrupulous conscience and a lax conscience so I have trouble judging things.

((This is not legal advice, do not consider it as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. Only get legal advice from a qualified person.))

CONTINUED BELOW because I ran out of space.

Pt. 3
Also: Use without permission is still copyright infringement even if the person gives credit/say it’s not theirs/etc - in the US, unless it’s fair use, the person must have permission from the copyright owner. See and An attempted disclaimer doesn’t make it ok. (@_Abyssinia [You Tube and copyright]) Also, just because a person legally has access to something does not mean they have the rights to share it (see the fourth myth on
@garn9173 (Is it a sin to watch copyrighted television shows and movies on Youtube?), uploading something recorded from sitting in front of the TV is very different from inviting someone over to watch it, and it is wrong to do this. @cheezey (Is it a sin to watch copyrighted television shows and movies on Youtube?), it does not matter that library books are already sold, it is still wrong to copy them because you are obtaining a copy you don’t have permission to own (whereas you can borrow the book because it was legally obtained and you are given permission to borrow it). Libraries even have a limited number of ebook copies they can lend out, they can’t just lend infinite copies.

Fair use is complicated. (@Iheartcoffee [Is it a sin to watch music videos on Youtube that infringe copyright]
e.g. “a clip pulled from a tv broadcast” or “making a music video with pictures of the singer” does not mean fair use. Covers also require a license [though reportedly a lot of music publishers have deals with YouTube, so the person could see if the song they’re covering fit under that and, if so, research if they need to do anything else or can just upload the cover][if they don’t know for sure that the song is covered by one of these deals or if they can’t/don’t know how to comply with the deal, then they should not upload without getting their own license], see [Is it a sin to watch music videos on Youtube that infringe copyright], I think a music video made by a fan would not be considered fair use. See, especially the fourth myth. The person should get permission to use the song)

Another note: This is not legal advice, do not consider it as legal advice. This is just my thoughts based on what I’ve read, for purposes of determining morality. I am not a lawyer. Only get legal advice from a qualified person who knows your unique situation.

Actually it is. It’s against the 7th Commandment as it is theft. Though there are exceptions in civil law e.g. fair use.

Copyright, a Moral Problem - whilst this particular article dealt with copying material - "In the ultimate analysis, copyright means that no one but the copyright owner has the right to copy without permission. We must obey the law which binds not only under pain of the penalty incurred, but under pain of the injustice performed and the restitution demanded. The obligation lies in the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not steal! "

Copyright Law of the US

Why not just use Spotify?

That’s not really something we can know. They may not care, though any artist under a major label probably does or, more specifically, the label does. Stuff slips through the cracks, though.

Even if our current copyright law existed at the time of Jesus and Paul, they wouldn’t be considered in violation of copyright. Not only would the works they cited have entered the public domain due to the passage of time, but their usage would have counted as fair use.

Either way, it breaks the law (Jesus and Paul had stuff to say on that), is uncharitable to your neighbor due to not respecting their property, and can count as theft. Even if the intent is to provide exposure, there are better ways (e.g. reviews), and streaming services have almost completely removed the “just want to try it” excuse.

I can tell you from experience that for all major music labels, videos containing copyrighted material that hasn’t been approved by the copyright owner, WILL BE BLOCKED. So if you’re listening to it on YouTube, you can rest assured that it has been approved. Of the hundreds of videos and music that I’ve uploaded, only one has ever been blocked. Some are blocked in a few specific countries due to the specific copyright laws in those countries, but in almost all cases the copyright owners don’t have a problem with having their music posted on YouTube. And when they do, it’ll be blocked.


Who are talking about? The person who uploads the video and/or the person who watches the video?

What if the person who watches a YouTube video doesn’t know whether it infringes on copyright or not? I find with some videos I watch on YouTube it is not always 100% clear.


You’d really have to define “some videos”, because I find this hard to believe for the vast majority of YouTube content.

Videos uploaded to YouTube are usually not infringing on copyright. YouTube is very quick to pull down those that are infringing on copyrights. One caveat is that there is a window of time between the posting of a video that infringes and being taken down where someone could view an illegal video but this is a pretty short window.

I very respectful of copyrighted material. I want only legal views. I’m comfortable with those I view as being legal. YouTube has algorithms to quickly identify those that aren’t and I just have to trust the system.

One way to be 100% certain, is to subscribe to a service. I want artists to be paid for their work so they’ll keep making more! My non legal advice is to enjoy the content and be assured it’s legal. We really can’t do anything more. Actually, the opposite is more of a problem. YouTube has often pulled down legal content, hurting businesses or journalists, even artists, who then have to go through a time consuming process to get the content back up!

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Youtube has notice and takedown provisions where owners of copyrighted material can get it pulled pretty quickly if they actually care that someone uploaded a song. Videos that use popular songs or movies in an infringing way are often pulled.

One thing to keep in mind is that many copyright owners don’t care if their song is on Youtube. I could name you many musicians I know who don’t care, or who only care in very limited cases (such as posting a song to Youtube that hasn’t yet been officially released). They see the Youtube posts as promotion and as normal fan activity that generates interest in their music. They also don’t make much money selling their music generally, and rather make money off touring, selling merch, selling special edition records, in other words something other than the musical track itself, and people hearing the music on Youtube motivates them to come to the show and buy a T-shirt and a special edition vinyl 7 inch.

I also agree with the person who said copyright is determined by civil law and the listener is often not aware of all the copyright laws that might pertain to a Youtube posting and shouldn’t be expected to sit and sort them out. If you’re going to be worried about the morality of somehow possibly listening to something that actually infringes (doesn’t fall into one of the many exceptions) and that the owner objects to and hasn’t gotten around to filing the takedown notice, then better just stay off Youtube generally. I personally would be more concerned with the morality of how you are treating God and other people in your daily life, and leave it to Youtube to police Youtube according to the civil law.

It’s pretty easy to fall into scrupulosity if you’re going to worry about every piece of digital media you see or consume - how do you know, for example, that the song you are supposedly hearing legally wasn’t stolen from some other songwriter? There are lawsuits over songs all the time, and you couldn’t possibly keep track of them all. How do you know that the artist was fairly compensated by the label and isn’t being exploited or abused by some manager? Etc.

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If you are the one uploading, then it is your responsibility to make sure you have permission from the copyright owner to do so (unless you think that what you’re uploading is actually fair use, based on reputable information). You can’t just upload anything with the thought that YouTube will take it down if it’s not allowed, it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s okay before doing it.

If the musician is signed to a label, it may be the label that is the copyright owner. So it might not actually be the musician’s call on whether it is okay for that content to be on YouTube, but rather the record label. I suppose it would depend on their contract though. ( ,

We have a moral obligation to follow laws. But it sounds like some people are in agreement with me that it is okay to assume that what is still available on YouTube is legal and to trust their process.

This is true if you’re dealing with say a video of your local church choir, but when you’re dealing with music from any major label the only reason that it won’t get blocked is because the copyright owner has chosen to allow its use. It’s a very simple process to ask YouTube to block a song, and YouTube is very, very good at recognizing blocked songs during the upload process. Try uploading a ten second snippet of the song…it’ll get blocked. Try speeding it up or slowing it down to fool the filter…it’ll get blocked. The only way that it won’t get blocked is if you alter it so much that it’s unrecognizable as the original song.

You’ll often see people put disclaimers in the video description. That disclaimer is meaningless. Regardless of any disclaimer, if the copyright owner has chosen to block its use, it’ll get blocked.

Again, when it comes to pretty much all popular music, if you find it on YouTube it’s because the copyright owner chose not to block it.

Oddly enough, sometimes the copyright owner will change, and the new copyright owner will choose to block it, but any videos that were uploaded before the change of ownership won’t be blocked, while any new videos will be blocked.

When I say “musician”, I mean label also. The vast majority of musicians I know are on small independent labels that respect the musician’s desires and generally leave the musician in control. The Sony and Warner Brothers of the world are another story, but they also use the legal processes to pull down music from YouTube on a daily basis.

Are you claiming that someone that looks at a copyrighted YouTube video is guilty of theft? If that is what you are claiming what is that based on on a legal basis and Catholic moral basis?

I watch a lot of YouTube videos and I don’t think it’s always clear what is copyrighted and what is not I.e. I can’t know for certain whether someone got permission to upload a particular video or not.

This is precisely why I don’t worry about sinning by looking at / listening to potentially infringing content on YouTube. The end user can’t be expected to know for sure if infringement is happening or not.

That depends on a lot of factors. If one’s intent is to listen to music free of charge and free of ads, and if they are using YouTube videos to fulfill that desire, it seems abundantly clear that their heart and actions are aligned with thievery. They are seeking something - in this case entertainment from music - while seeking ways to avoid any form of payment to the copyright holder. It may not cost as much as shoplifting a physical album, but they seek the same end.

Things can get a little more complicated beyond that. A person who seeks profit off of another’s music by putting ads on their videos is, again, acting in the manner of a thief, though it might be difficult for the consumer to know where the ad money is going - to the person who put up the video or to the actual copyright holder as a result of YouTube’s automated systems. But even then, Spotify is a much better alternative both as a music platform and as a way to know money is going to the right place (minus the fact Spotify may not pay artists enough), which brings up my earlier question about why anyone would be going to YouTube.

At some point, common sense needs to start playing a role. If the person does not have immediate proof of permission (e.g. a link in the video description), it seems abundantly obvious they don’t have it. Of course, things like fair use and general agreements (e.g. with video games) can be taken into account.

As part of our digital age, it seems like people should be expected to understand at least the basics of the DMCA, just as we would be expected to understand the basics of any law we’re bound to. Sure, they don’t need to know the exact date any particular piece of media will no longer be under copyright (of course, unless you’re watching something 70+ years old, that isn’t relevant), but understanding what counts as copyright, the basics of fair use, etc. seems reasonable.

At a certain point, you can’t really claim “invincible ignorance”.

Regarding your last point, people go to YouTube to watch many different videos on different topics, not just music. Many of the videos I watch on YouTube have nothing to do with music specifically so questions about copyright are broader than just music.

I have Spotify, but I also listen to music on YouTube and a lot of music can be found through official channels on YouTube, but with some YouTube videos (not just music) it isn’t always clear what the copyright status is of various videos is.

With some YouTube videos that you can tell was probably not uploaded by an official channel but by a random uploader, it may say in the description section that appears to have been put there by YouTube that song is “Licensed to YouTube by” … and then it names what company etc. And names the song name etc. Does that mean its legit to have been uploaded? I don’t know.

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