We now have the ability to embed Youtube clips. However, this opens up a new can of worms, or at least reopens an old can of worms.

The Stack Exchange terms of service state:

Subscriber represents, warrants and agrees that it will not contribute any Subscriber Content that (a) infringes, violates or otherwise interferes with any copyright or trademark of another party,

So I ask what are our community's expectations for acceptable and unacceptable Youtube linking/embedding? We're setting aside linking/embedding officially-posted videos, as those are obviously being made available for general consumption. Are links/embeds to snippets of episodes acceptable? Are links/embeds to full episodes acceptable?

  • Is there any possibility of getting help in clarifying the situation from the legal people at SE? For instance, just what would be qualified as fair use, how long a clip in, say, a 2 hour movie, can be without creating legal issues?
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 4:44

5 Answers 5


US Law states the following about Fair Use:

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The key consideration for this site from this is #3, as the rest just outline this site as a whole. So long as the clip in use is limited to something directly applicable, then under my interpretation of the law, we should be okay. It would not be acceptable to link to, say, the entire Star Wars movie, but it would be okay to link to a minute clip.

As phantom mentioned, this site falls under the research, criticism, comment, etc category, and thus qualifies for fair use. Do not take this to mean anything beyond Stack Exchange, I really won't stick my neck out there...

Of course, I'll let the SE lawyers override me if required.

  • 2
    It should be noted that the real key is this clause: " the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.". Fair Use does not globally apply in every instance just because it's a small clip. It must also be for certain uses. IMO, this site generally falls into the "research" category.
    – phantom42
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 16:28
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    Yes, I should say that the key point for this site was the size of the clip. Will edit my answer appropriately. Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 17:27

I made these comments in the chat room about this issue:

  1. The internet is international and one can post links from Boonedock, North Dakota, and end up dealing with a court in Europe or elsewhere. It's happened and there's no reason to take a risk of it happening to someone here.
  2. In some countries people have been held accountable for linking to illegal content.
  3. We don't make the determination of what kind of site this is, educational or otherwise. That would be made by a judge and a prosecuting attorney might make a valid point that'll sway a judge in the other direction. We're not lawyers, we don't know the implications. Presuming to know what lawyers and a judge will say in a field where we (other than, possibly lawyers working for SE) are not experts is foolish.
  4. Allowing linking to (or embedding of) illegal content encourages more links to such content and that can discourage people who want to keep a clean legal record for various reasons. Some of those are content creators. I'm working on several scripts and also working toward starting my own film production company. When my production company is working, if I were found to be breaking copyright law, I'd be a prime target for law enforcement.

We have one answer on here by the screenwriter for Groundhog Day. The chances are if he had been by here and seen links to illegal content, especially links to long segments of that film, he never would have had a thing to do with this site and may have reported it to authorities.

Courts have, in the past, ruled against those just linking against illegal content. While YouTube has a Terms of Service and does actively pursue copyright infringement, there is no guarantee they get all the infringing or illegal videos. Why take an unnecessary risk of creating trouble.

Also, if material is in a gray area, and it's up on YouTube today, it very well might be yanked tomorrow - thus leaving us with nothing. While this could happen with any YouTube video, it is much more likely to happen on videos that try to skirt the law.

We are a legitimate, legal site and we want it to stay that way - there's no reason to take chances on walking into trouble we don't have to walk into. It leads to unnecessary risks that can hurt the site. One can make arguments here, but that's no guarantee those arguments will hold up in court and there's no reason why we have to take those risks.

  • could you post the case or court that ruled against someone who linked? So you are cool with screencaps and partial scripts being on the site, but not video? There is a lot of copyrighted material all over this site. Should it all get taken down? I personally feel quite comfortable defending my use of this site as fair use under any standard of the law. Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 10:23
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    Scripts are an issue, too - a paragraph or two, or what stays in fair use hasn't shown to be a problem before. I've quoted sections of the ST:TNG tech guide, but limited sections. My overall point is the attitude of "Who cares about them?" is careless and reckless and can cause trouble - we need to remember to take care of the site and to avoid what will keep it out of trouble. There's no reason to "tempt fate."
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 17:20
  • @sarge_smith: Also, I'll have to look up the court case, but I believe it was in Germany. I've also read of other cases where people were held responsible in foreign countries. I know some of the "Big Guys" have had issues like that in countries where they don't have a presence.
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 17:22
  • I understand your position. I'm doing my best to not just bombastically fly off the handle about unjust laws and the responsibility of the people subject to them. Please do not think that I have a "who cares" attitude about copyright. I was merely pointing out that being unable to use copyrighted material means this entire site is not feasible. (except the story idents, I guess). Every source you are likely to need is protected, which is why I want for us to attribute clearly and then not worry about it. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 12:13
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    @sarge_smith: I have to agree that the laws are unjust and are heavily skewed to the content providers. I don't like them, they're not fair, and when it comes to any content I produce, I plan to make it DRM-free and treat the consumer fairly. We can use excerpts within fair use, but we don't seem to be getting any legal guidance on this and SE is really not the place for a social protest when it could lead to negative consequences for users or for SE as a whole. So I figure we need to stay on the safe side.
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 15:39
  • I seem to be failing to make the point that that there is no "safe" side. We can do what the site is designed to do to the best of our ability or we can outlaw all copyrighted material. I personally opt for making the site the best it can be. If somebody decides to haul me in front of a judge for that, at least I know I was on the side of human knowledge, regardless of what that court decides. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 16:12

An embedded video is little different than a link to the same video... the only difference is in how the http client (web browser) treats an embedded video. Instead of making a clickable word that will direct the browser to Youtube's page, the client downloads and presents the video without the click.

This isn't "contributing content". It's just pointing out where to get content someone else contributed to another website.

We shouldn't want to be the copyright police for the same Hollywood assholes who are constantly being disrespectful to us and refusing to create the films we'd all want to see. I must have read a dozen short stories and novels where science fiction has explained why eternal copyright is so harmful...

And here, of all places, we're going to carry their water? No thanks.

We should only have a problem with Youtube videos that clearly aren't up to our "only necessary profanity" standards. Keep it PG-13, I'm ok with it.


First off, not a lawyer.

That said, as long as our links to ANY site aren't breaking the TOS for that site, I don't see why we shouldn't allow them. Linking Wikipedia or Pottermore isn't any different than linking YouTube. As you can clearly see in the YouTube TOS, linking or embedding on a SE page meets all the qualifications set forth in section 4 & 5.

I agree that we don't want to get into a copyright pissing contest, but if we (SE) aren't hosting the content, it's not our problem that it's available on the open web. As long as links are clearly stated to lead outside the SE network, then they should be allowed to stand. Additionally, why should we be writing, when a few second of video can clear the confusion right up. We do Q & A here, lets not tie our hands to jump through hoops we don't have to.

Additionally, our own sites legal page already has a disclaimer that seems to directly reference this:

  1. Third party websites

Users of the Network may gain access from the Network to third party sites on the Internet through hypertext or other computer links on the Network. Third party sites are not within the supervision or control of Stack Exchange or the Network. Unless explicitly otherwise provided, neither Stack Exchange nor the Network make any representation or warranty whatsoever about any third party site that is linked to the Network, or endorse the products or services offered on such site. Stack Exchange and the Network disclaim: (a) all responsibility and liability for content on third party websites and (b) any representations or warranties as to the security of any information (including, without limitation, credit card and other personal information) You might be requested to give any third party, and You hereby irrevocably waive any claim against the Network or Stack Exchange with respect to such sites and third party content.

  • "but if we (SE) aren't hosting the content, it's not our problem that it's available on the open web." This brings up the issue that SE does host copyrighted materials. For example, I recently added images to one of my questions and used the SE server to host them. Technically, Marvel owns the copyrights to those images.
    – phantom42
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 21:15
  • @phantom42 and technically, by posting those images, you are breaking the TOS for this site, according to the legal page. I personally believe that you have nothing to worry about because I believe that this entire site falls under fair use, it would seem to violate 3(a) of the legal page. Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 10:35
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    That's how I see it as well. It's purely informational, so I believe it falls under fair-use. IANAL, though.
    – phantom42
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 14:51

One of the biggest problems here is: how do we determine if something is a copyright violation? As this answer from a related meta.so discussion indicates, it is not always so clear-cut what is, and what is not, a copyright violation.

Taking from an answer Jeff posted on arqade.com, in the event of a possible violation falling into a "grey area", it is okay to assume good faith.

Given that what is deemed "fair use" or even what might infringe a copyright is something that is best handled by trained attorneys. As I understand it (IANAL!), it is the responsibility of a copyright holder to contact anyone posting infringing material, and the site contacted must then follow a specific procedure to verify the removal of said content.

I honestly don't know if a link, or even an embedded Youtube.com video, counts as infringing a copyright, but that's kind of the point.

So, how do we handle it?

I propose we handle it from the perspective of what we do know. And that should be "what makes a question or answer high quality?".

If we focus on standards that ensure that our content is high-quality, it should help to eliminate the most egregious violations, as well as hopefully demonstrating good faith in the case of fair use.


  • Any linked video should be reasonably scoped relative to the answer. If the answer is about the movie Army of Darkness, and a video is included, the video should be a clip of the specific portion of the movie relevant to the answer, and not to the full movie (I link to my answer partially to illustrate my point, and also partially to highlight my use of youtube so that if the answer to this question indicates I shouldn't have linked this, it can easily be removed).
  • As a clarification/addendum to the previous point, embedding the full video/episode is not acceptable, even in cases of "identify this story" questions. If you know of a place where the show/movie in question can be watched for free without infringing copyright, providing a text link is appropriate, but strictly speaking, there's no benefit to embedding the video directly into the answer. Embedding is best for short clips; if you want to watch a full show, you're probably going to want to expand it to full screen, anyway.
  • Any answer that consists of a video clip must also include text describing the answer; a video alone is not a sufficient answer, as is any other answer that consists of a single link. In most cases, we can expect copyright violations to be taken up with youtube.com before they come here, and if something inappropriate is linked, there's a good chance that youtube will remove the video before we're ever aware of the issue. That being said, anything that shows as having been removed from youtube should be edited out/flagged for edits ASAP.

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