The Rights To Your Showreel – Fair Use & YouTube!

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Since YouTube introduced its Content Verification Program to prevent online copyright infringement, you may have found yourself being challenged over copyright when uploading showreels to the site that contain clips of your TV work.

This happened to me just last week when I uploaded a new reel containing some recent work I had done on Channel 4's Hollyoaks.

Within minutes of uploading my new reel, I received the following email - something that I was not expecting at all:

I completely understand why companies have to protect their content, and I am 100% behind that, but obviously I wanted to find a way around the issue, so that I could still distribute my showreel on the largest video sharing platform on the planet!

YouTube copyright infringement email

Although I didn't know much about it, I had heard of something called fair use, and so I set out to find out exactly what it meant, and if it could be applied to my situation - here's what I found.

What Is Fair Use?

When researching what fair use was, I stumbled across a man called Anthony Falzone.

Anthony is the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a lecturer in law at Stanford Law School.

His explanation of fair use is as follows:

“If you think about copyright as a series of restrictions, fair use is a set of exceptions.

"It protects your right to use copyrighted material in certain ways and it’s not a trivial little technicality — it’s a fundamental part of the copyright bargain. We don’t give copyright owners unlimited control over their content—we preserve a whole variety of uses and things that people get to do with copyrighted content without permission.

"And fair use is really, above all else, a set of factors and considerations that help us figure out which things we carve out of the copyright monopoly, and which things we let people do without permission."

I watched a GREAT video from Anthony on some examples of where fair use can be exercised, check it out below:

The 4 Questions To Ask

When you are trying to determine whether or not your use of copyrighted material is covered under the fair use doctrine there are four basic questions that you’ll want to ask:

1. What are you doing with the copyrighted content?
If you are doing something highly transformative with the content then you will have more room under the fair use doctrine. You are more likely to be covered if you are saying something quite different from what the original creator was trying to say.

2. What is the nature of the copyrighted content you are using?
Use of creative or fictional content (for example, a film or cartoon) is less frequently allowed under fair use than less creative, non-fictional material.

3. How much of the original content are you using?
You should be careful to use a reasonable amount. Just use enough of the copyrighted content as you need to in order to get your point across.

4. Will your work serve as a substitute for the original?
If your video will take away views or sales from the original then it is less likely to be covered under fair use. Additionally, you shouldn’t create work that occupies markets that copyright owners are entitled to exploit.

As soon as you answer the above questions with regards to an actor's showreel, it becomes quite apparent that in most cases the use of copyrighted footage should indeed fall under fair use.

1. The use of footage is highly transformative - it is used to document a career, not solely for entertainment purposes.

2. Okay the footage is creative, but it is now being used in a FACTUAL manner to document an actor's career.

3. Only a small piece of the original product is being used in a showreel. This is usually just one scene of the production.

4. The showreel will in no way be seen as a substitute for the original product.

Disputing The Copyright Claim On YouTube

Armed with my new found knowledge on copyright and fair use, I logged back into my YouTube account to dispute the copyright claim.

The process is actually VERY simple and pain free.

Here's a step by step look at how it works.

Step One - Dispute The Copyright Claim

This is done very simply by navigating to the copyright disputed video and clicking on the blue 'I believe this copyright claim is not valid' link.

YouTube copyright step 1

Step Two - Claiming Fair Use

YouTube will then ask you for the reason you are disputing the copyright claim. Simply select the fair use option shown in the screenshot below.

YouTube copyright step 2

Step Three - Confirming The Dispute

YouTube clearly wants to make sure that you are happy with your reason for disputing the claim. Tick the box to say you are happy with your choices and then hit continue.

YouTube copyright step 3

Step Four - Giving YouTube More Details

Now it's time to give YouTube some more insight into the reasons behind your dispute. Give as much detail as possibly whilst being clear and concise.

You can read the EXACT text that I submitted in step 5.

YouTube then requires an electronic signature from you, as well as an acknowledgement of a statement of good faith - they clearly take copyright dispute very seriously.

YouTube copyright step 4

Step Five - Review And Submit Your Dispute

Look carefully at what you are submitting, check for any mistakes, and if you are happy click submit.

Most disputes will be looked at within a few days. In the meantime your video should be reinstated on YouTube until a decision has been made.

YouTube copyright step 5

Keep An Eye On Your Inbox!

Once your copyright dispute has been reviewed by YouTube you will receive an email giving you details on their decision.

If you have followed the above guidelines, you SHOULD have your video released.

Here is the email that I received:

YouTube copyright release email

So there you have it, if you ever have the same problem, the above advice should hopefully be able to help you out.

I'm no lawyer, and the above should not be taken as legal advice, but the Fair Use Doctrine is there to help people like us.

If anyone else has any advice on fair use and actors' showreels, then please leave your comments below.

In the meantime, here's my reel sitting pretty on YouTube with no copyright claims made against it:

  • Laura Ferraro

    Very interesting – and the steps are extremely clear, detailed and helpful. I didn’t know about the existence of Fair Use. Thank you Ross, excellent job!

  • Frank Stone

    Hi Ross
    Great info, I just watched your reel, who do you contact in production to get footage, do you have to pay for the time to retrive the footage, your show reel is great. Thanks Ross.

  • Hey Laura/ Frank!

    Glad you both found this article useful!

    Frank, I was actually lucky enough to catch all of my TV work on TV and record it, or buy it on DVD and use that.

    I have in the past though requested a DVD long after transmission from Corrie, and they were kind enough to send me my ep.

    I doubt it will work every time, but if you get in touch with production on the show in question, they may be able to send you a copy. (crosses fingers)

  • Ian Porter

    Thanks for this! Very helpful as the BBC seem to be coming down hard on usage. I have clips from a Doctor Who episode on my showreel and have had to challenge three different showreels I’ve uploaded to Youtube. Couldn’t have done it without this article.

    Thanks again.

    • That’s great to hear Ian! Really pleased this helped you!