The rule of thumb – if you’re in to making money from your UGC, use sites like YouTube as a site to distribute your free stuff, not the Oscar-winning film noir that’s going to make you the big bucks.
As online media becomes more professional, it becomes critical to start examining the fine print. Traditionally, entertainers had agents and lawyers to do this for them — and take a hefty cut in the process. In this do-it-yourself, jack-of-all-trades business, though, it behooves you to cultivate an appreciation for legalese. Specifically, get to know the terms of service on a site before you start uploading your videos.
For starters, the safest place to put your online video content in terms of defending your rights to it down the road is on a site you maintain. You set the terms of what, when and how people view your work, can go crazy with advertising and sponsorship, aren’t bound by anyone’s concept of obscenity and stand a much better chance of keeping your work up in the wake of a nastygram.
But the second you put a video on a video publishing platform, you’re agreeing to all the fine print. While these are usually boilerplate arrangements, and abuses of content are largely in the hypothetical stage at this point, it’s a good idea to be wary, or at least shrewd. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, nor have I played one on TV — if you have serious questions, hire one, there’s lots of ‘em.)
For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions.
This is good. It basically means that beyond the following rights you’re granting to YouTube, you’re not ceding any rights to ownership of the materials.
However, by submitting User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.
There’s always a “however,” isn’t there? Basically, this is saying that you are giving YouTube the rights to display your content, make backup copies on servers, give its business partners (such as Google and Apple) rights under these terms and deliver the video via different channels. It’s that last part that could, theoretically be abused — for instance, for a “America’s Funniest YouTube Videos” airing on ABC Sundays at seven or available on DVD at your local Blockbuster.
You also hereby grant each user of the YouTube Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such User Submissions as permitted through the functionality of the Website and under these Terms of Service.
Here’s where YouTube makes sure that you can’t go after people embedding content you’ve uploaded to YouTube. Earlier in the document, YouTube makes it clear that if third-party sites slather YouTube-hosted videos with ads, they will go after you. Basically, if you figure out how to make money off videos submitted to YouTube before they do, expect a letter from the legal team (or maybe an acquisition offer, who knows).
The above licenses granted by you in User Videos terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your User Videos from the YouTube Service.
Here’s the critical juncture. At any point, you can choose to opt out of these terms simply by deleting your videos. So if you do see yourself punching your own groin on ABC or on DVD packaging, it’s time to start threatening to take down your content unless you get a piece of the action (if that sounds like extortion, welcome to showbiz, baby).
You understand and agree, however, that YouTube may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted.
Admittedly, this sounds a tad creepy — the first thought that came to my mind was, “Wow, so that’s what happens to all the porn that’s presumably still being uploaded but never displayed on the site.” Seriously though, this simply means that YouTube’s not going to go through every redundant backup of source material looking for your clip to make sure traces no longer exist, and maybe save them some re-encoding time if you relent and post your video again.
The above licenses granted by you in User Comments are perpetual and irrevocable.
Long story short — don’t write the great American novel in the comments. What it may have in over-the-top postmodern statement, it will lack in terms of your ability to sell exclusive rights down the road.
Of course, that’s just the meat of the matter for content creators (here’s a bullet guide to the rest). You’ll find similar, but not exactly the same, language on most other sites where you can post video. Blip.tv has the courtesy of only granting itself non-commercial rights to re-display your content off site (as well as offering the choice of Creative Commons or public domain licensing of your work).
The other thing to note is that YouTube, and most other sites, reserves the right to change its terms at any point without notfication. By leaving your work on the site, and continuing to upload work, you automatically agree to those changes in its terms. And of course, it also reserves the right to delete you and your videos from the system for all sorts of violations, real or perceived, or none at all.
None of these terms, from YouTube or most other sites, are particularly heinous. But if you are looking at producing online video as a business, you might not want to rely on YouTube or any other site as a primary vehicle for delivering your content, but rather a convenient place to further distribute and promote work you’re making freely available from your own site already.