Legally Adding Copyrighted Music to Your YouTube Video

Add music to your YouTube videos without fearing copyright issues

Using commercial music as the background for your YouTube video without permission might violate U.S. copyright law. The music rights holder could issue a copyright claim on your video, resulting in the video being taken down or the audio stripped from it. The good news is that YouTube has options to help you stay legal with your music.

The site offers an extensive list of popular commercial songs from well-known artists that you can use under certain circumstances and an Audio Library that contains free music and sound effects. Both of these collections are located in the YouTube Studio (formerly Creator Studio).

Person adding copyrighted music to YouTube legally
LIfewire / Theresa Chiechi

Find Free Music You Can Add to Your Videos

  1. Log in to your YouTube account from a computer browser.

  2. Click your profile photo in the upper right corner of the screen and click YouTube Studio in the menu that appears.

    YouTube main page showing YouTube Studio (beta) menu item in right-hand Profile column
  3. In the navigation menu on the left side of the screen, hover over Other Features.

  4. Select Audio Library.

    Screenshot of YouTube Studio beta showing Other features and Audio library buttons
  5. Select the Free Music tab.

    Screen shot of YouTube's Free Music screen
    YouTube Free Music screen.
  6. Click on any of the free music entries you see to listen to a preview and — most importantly — to read about any restrictions on your use of the music. In most cases, you'll see You're free to use this song in any of your videos. In some cases, you may see You're free to use this song in any of your videos, but you must include the following in your video description followed by a disclaimer of some kind that must be copied and used exactly as described. When you find the music you want to use, click the download arrow next to the title to download it for use with your video.

You aren't limited to the music on the screen. You can search by title, genre, mood, instrument, duration, and attribution. As you might expect, clicking on the Sound effects tab opens a selection of free sound effects you can use in your videos.

Finding Copyrighted Commercial Music You Can Add to Your Videos

The YouTube commercial Music Policies section contains many current and popular songs that users have shown an interest in using. They usually come with some restrictions. The restriction may be that the song is blocked in certain countries or that the owner may place ads on your video to monetize the use of the music. The list also includes songs that you are not allowed to use.

To view the copyrighted commercial music list, click Have different music in your video? Check its copyright policies in the bar at the top of the Audio Library Free music screen to open the Music Policies screen.

Screen shot of YouTube Music Policies screen
YouTube Music Policies screen.  

YouTube Restriction Types

Each song in the Music Policies list is accompanied by the restrictions that the music owner has set for its use on YouTube. In most cases, they apply to the original song and also to any cover of that song by anyone else. They include:

  • A comment on where the original music or covers can be used. This may be Viewable worldwide, Viewable everywhere except 2 countries, Not viewable in 74 countries, and other similar entries. You don't want to choose a song that isn't usable in the U.S. because your video would be blocked here. If you see a notice that the music is blocked in a group of countries, tap on the entry to open the list of countries and see which ones won't be able to view your video. 
  • You will typically see a note that Ads can appear. This means that the music owner can place ads on your video in exchange for your use of the owner's music. If you don't like the idea of the music owner monetizing your video, you may need to select from the free songs in the Audio Library because most of the copyrighted music has this disclaimer.
  • You may see This song is not available for use in your YouTube video along with a warning that your video may be blocked if you use it. Don't use it.

For example, at the time of publication, "Gangnam Style" from Psy and "Uptown Funk" from Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars are listed as Viewable worldwide. Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" is blocked in 249 countries. All of them note that Ads can appear.

Using one of these commercial songs legally on YouTube does not grant you the right to use it anywhere else. Also, copyright holders can change the permissions they grant for the use of their music at any time.