Clearing Up Common YouTube Misconceptions

YouTube can be a lucrative and audience-building platform for creators, artists, and songwriters, but it also tends to confuse even the most experienced users when it comes to monetizing videos and filing copyright claims. 

We strive to empower Songtrust clients so they always know where their royalties are coming from and how to collect them. Here’s a perfect starting point: six common misconceptions about YouTube and the truth behind each one.

1. You can’t collect royalties on videos uploaded by other users

As a songwriter, you are entitled to monetize and collect royalties from any use of your songs. Publishers can claim any YouTube video that contains music controlled by them and their writers, whether it’s an official recording, a live performance, a cover version, or a remix. 

That goes for any use — even if you didn’t upload the video yourself. Once your publisher has initiated a claim, they can choose to monetize that video and collect royalties. (If it’s eligible for monetization, that is; more on that in a minute.)

2. Your label or distributor monetizes your compositions on YouTube

Songs earn royalties in two ways: from the master recording (actual audio file) and the composition (underlying music and lyrics). Most record labels or distributors only control master recordings, and therefore they can only collect royalties generated by the master recording on YouTube. 

Songwriters are also owed any royalties generated by their composition; chances are you’re not getting them through your label or distributor. You’ll need to register your compositions with YouTube yourself, or with a publishing administrator like Songtrust, to collect the royalties your songs have earned on the platform.

3. Videos without advertisements generate royalties

Since YouTube royalties are essentially a portion of ad revenue, YouTube videos do not generate any royalties until an ad has been served by a copyright owner. This is done when a label, publisher, or other content owner places a claim and therefore tells YouTube to monetize that video. 

If a YouTube video does not have an advertisement playing before, during, or alongside it, it’s not generating any royalties for the associated rightsholders. One exception to this rule is YouTube clips viewed through the ad-free, paid content platform YouTube Premium.

4. There is a set royalty rate per view

Royalty rates on YouTube are notoriously confusing. They depend on what type of ad is served on the video, the territory in which the view took place, the time of year, the YouTube service (free or premium), and many other factors. Because of this, it’s very difficult to estimate exactly how much a video will earn in ad revenue.

5. Claiming a video could shut another user’s channel down

A YouTube channel receives a copyright strike when a rightsholder issues a formal takedown request notifying YouTube it does not have permission to post its content. YouTube takes copyright strikes very seriously; after three of them, all of a channel’s videos are removed and could be subject to termination. 

On the other hand, when a rightsholder places a claim on a video in order to monetize it, it does not give the uploader’s channel a copyright strike or put it in any sort of bad standing with YouTube. A win-win all around, really. 

6. Any video on YouTube can be monetized

YouTube has minimum thresholds that must be met before a video can be monetized. For example, the channel the video is posted to must have at least 1,000 subscribers, and has had 4,000 hours of watch time over the past 12 months. 

As an independent creator, YouTube is a great tool for creating and sharing content, promoting your music, and ultimately generating royalties. It’s important to understand what your rights are, how you can monetize videos using your music and collect the royalties generated, and exactly what types of royalties you are due. 

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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves? The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.

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