How long can you play a song without copyright?

Copyright strikes and demonetization are words that you’ll hear from YouTube creators multiple times. There aren’t many channels left who haven’t gotten these strikes or warnings yet. Music is a particularly touchy subject and creators take care to not feature well known songs in their videos.

However, there are creators whose videos are extremely melody or rhythm-centric. They feature long interludes in their videos where there is nothing but music. At times, it’s just non-copyright music. However, many a times, they’re recognizable tunes.

So, the question is, how long can you play a song without copyright? The answer is a little more complicated than yes or no. The length of time and the song featured may make a difference or no difference at all.

There is also the issue of platform specific policy to consider. Aside from YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok and Twitch are all streaming sites which feature music. They all have different policies regarding copyright music.

Let’s go through them one by one.

How Long Can You Play a Song Without Copyright on YouTube?

There is no clear answer here. You can play copyrighted music in a YouTube video for a few seconds and it can get flagged. YouTube has a Content ID system to identify an entity’s content on the platform. This entity can be an individual YouTuber or a big company.

Videos uploaded to the site are scanned against a database of content submitted by the owners. This database is consistently updated. Owners can get to decide what happens when the content in a video matches their own work. If a match is found, the video can get a Content ID claim.

Fair Use Won’t Protect You

According to YouTube’s own rules, Fair Use is not a viable excuse to use copyrighted music in your videos.

Fair Use is determined on a case by case basis, and different countries have different rules about when it’s okay to use material without the copyright owner’s permission. In the U.S., works of commentary, criticism, research, teaching, or news reporting might be considered fair use, but it can depend on the situation.

YouTube Audio Library

YouTube features an Audio Library to help creators feature content that is reusable. This content is free of copyright strikes and provides high quality sound clips and sound effects for your videos. This is one of the best options to avoid copyright strikes and demonetization notices on your YouTube account.

How Long Can You Play a Song Without Copyright on TikTok?

TikTok is a huge platform for streaming content and has over 1 billion monthly active users. However, since it’s still a new platform relative to others, it hasn’t been regulated as strictly. While it’s very much regulated in Australia, stringent copyright restrictions don’t apply to the platform elsewhere.

Improper use of copyrighted material like music, and movie clips seems to be more flexible. You can also post recordings of another device like a laptop or a smartphone.

TikTok’s License Agreements

The way TikTok works is quite different from YouTube. Creators regularly dance to and comment on music or use dubs to make their point. TikTok thrives on repurposing content and creating one’s own spin on it.

This is why TikTok has generated license agreements with several artists for the right to use their music. This way, influencers, businesses and normal creators can use copyrighted music.

Commercial Music Library

TikTok’s Commercial Music Library contains royalty free music. Verified businesses on TikTok must use music from this library if they don’t want to get copyright-striked.

The commercial library has a large collection of music end users can use. This way, they don’t need to import the music from other platforms. As a result, there is little to no chance of TikTok users getting copyright strikes. However, if the music taken is from somewhere else other than TikTok, the strikes can do damage to that TikTok profile.

How Long You Play a Song Without Copyright on Instagram?

The guidelines for posting copyright music on Instagram have been laid out in detail. Since they’re a subsidiary of Facebook (now Meta), they’re quite clear about the copyright rules on their platform.

Instagram laid out these rules in a post on May 20, 2020.

Instagram Rules About Copyrighted Music

  1. Live performance recordings are permitted from concerts or live gigs or other performances. “Music in Stories” has been permitted completely.
  2. Full length recorded tracks streamed on Instagram live can terminate the broadcast.
  3. Video clips with copyright music should be kept short. Aim for short-form content when in doubt.
  4. Copyright music should always be accompanied with a video component on Instagram. Playing songs without a visual element is prohibited.
  5. Certain countries may not allow music. This is for countries where Instagram Musicis not active. Without the proper regulations in place, there could be misuse of music this way.

How Long You Play a Song Without Copyright on Twitch?

Twitch’s use of copyright music has been a contentious point. Several Twitch streamers have been banned over their use of copyright music in streams.

In June of 2021, Twitch began to use a system similar to YouTube to manage copyright music use. Twitch is now prohibited from playing tracks which are from streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. Streamers are even prohibited from singing songs they don’t own on karaoke.

They aren’t even allowed to make covers or use them in DJ sets. Streamers have complained to Twitch for these draconian rules since the use of music is essential to their business model.

How to Legally Use Copyrighted Music?

While these rules aren’t platform blind, there is a general consensus on how to use music, copyrighted or not.

Use Public Domain Music

Using music in the public domain usually keeps you safe from copyright strikes. Songs in the public domain aren’t copyrighted. They are free to use. However, it’s very important to note that public domain isn’t applicable to the song itself.

It’s related to the recording of the song. Hence, covers of that song may still be copyright protected. So, you should only use the version of the song which is copyright protected.

Seek Permission

You can ask for permission from the original creators of the music. However, be sure to get it in writing. This can be for a big music label or a small, underground artist. Make sure that you iron out the details as well like sharing your content on other platforms.

Get Licensed Music

A license is just a fancy word for permission. You can buy licensed music from lots of different sources and websites which offer royalty free licenses. There are websites like epidemicsound or incompetech or ccmixter which can suffice for most creators.

Use the Creative Commons License

The creative commons license basically allows you to use content which is within the common use guidelines. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization which is building a globally accessible public common. This license applies to all things, not just music. It is what Wikipedia uses as well.

There are a few rules including fair use and defensible use of content. As long as you abide by these rules, you’ll be fine.

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Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.