When YouTube Met Creative Commons

By Peter Connor

Mining YouTube without violating copyright law

YouTube LogoIf you could just insert that YouTube video you saw last week into the new PowerPoint presentation you’re building, or borrow just a part of it to splice into a video project of your own, your lesson plan would be complete, right? But wait, everything on the Internet is copyright protected, isn’t it?

Well yes, pretty much. Authors, creators, original sources, copyright holders, owners of one stripe or another needing to be paid, permission sought from, and or to whom an attribution must be given. No-use, one-time use, limited use, fair use, etc., how do you find out what’s what and who’s who? Where do you begin?

First, Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Working with organizations like C-Span, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, and others, YouTube announced in June 2011 that they had created a searchable database containing over 10,000 Creative Commons attribution-licensed videos (Ribeiro, para. 4). Anyone with a YubeTube account—in good standing—was welcome to add a new creation and, likewise, anyone in good standing, could borrow from it…for free.

What Does a CC Attribution License Permit?

The Creative Commons Attribution License reserves exclusive ownership rights to the original video creator or owner—both of or whichever may be the case—while allowing others to copy, add to, take away from and distribute (even commercially) any such licensed video so long as the original creator or owner is given proper credit.

Here’s How it Works

First, you need an account: They're free. Go to YouTube and look for the "Sign Up" option in the upper right-hand corner. Click it, sign up, create your account, it's that simple. Without it, you cannot access the CC licensed database.

YouTube editor landing pageSecond, type /editor after the www.youtube.com address in your browser's URL bar (at this writing, there is no other way to access this editor other than manually entering www.youtube.com/editor into the URL Bar). The page you are being directed to will look like the image at right.

Lastly, click on the CC icon on the tab next to the camera icon in the upper left-hand corner, as shown in expanded view below.

YouTube Creative Commons tabAlong with some sample videos, two search options will appear:

  1. An “All of YouTube” drop-down menu.
  2. A “Search Creative Commons videos” search bar.

By entering your subject keywords in the "Search Creative Commons videos" bar, you are narrowing your search, requesting only videos that have a Creative Commons license. Once you have picked your video, you can begin editing.

To learn how to work with the editor—trim and customize clips, add audio, and publish—you will want to watch the YouTube editing video.

Note: Not all YouTube videos are in the Creative Commons database. Most come with just the Standard YouTube License (another ball game, entirely) which you will find in their Terms of Service.

It’s easy enough to check what kind of license a YouTube video has: Click on the “Show More” option just above the comments section of any video and both the category and type of license will be revealed. The Creative Commons Attribution License clearly states, “reuse allowed”.


Creative Commons. (n.d.) About the Licenses Retrieved from http://creativecommons.org/licenses

Peterson, S. (2011, June 2). YouTube and Creative Commons: raising the bar on user creativity [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2011/06/youtube-and-creative-commons-raising.html

Ribeiro, J. (2011, June 3). "YouTube sets up Creative Commons library." Computer World. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9217283/YouTube_sets_up_Creative_Commons_library

YouTube. (2010, June 9). Terms of Service Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/static?gl=US&template=terms


Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor