Starting a successful YouTube channel requires creativity and hard work. While the finished product may look glamorous and exciting to viewers, it takes creators hours in the double digits to brainstorm, film, edit, and post. Not to mention ensuring all content is either one hundred percent original, copyright-free, or properly licensed for use. With so many stock photo websites like Unsplash, knowing what can and cannot be used on YouTube can be challenging.
Yes, you can use Unsplash images on YouTube, but there are some restrictions. According to YouTube, as long as the images don’t violate Community Guidelines and you have the authorization to use them, whether by license or copyright, you can use them on the platform in your videos or thumbnails.
Now, the reason Unsplash content is usable on platforms like YouTube is because of the license of their images stated on their website. Let’s look into the details of the license and what it means for content creators, as well as a deeper look into YouTube’s Community Guidelines.
Unsplash is a website that contains royalty-free and stock images that can be used for free. However, just because an image is free, it does not mean that you can use it in any way you’d like. You have to know the license agreement for the website or individual photographer and if it pertains to all images housed on their site.
According to Unsplash, they grant their users with “irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash.”
The license means any user can use an Unsplash image in their YouTube video or their thumbnail without crediting the photographer or Unsplash and without paying a fee, even if they make money off of the video that includes the Unsplash content. Before you jump on the site and download hundreds of images for your library, there are a few restrictions you should become acquainted with first.
Unsplash’s images seem like a virtual free-for-all and can be used in almost any context. That does not mean there are no exceptions to the copyright license the site gives you. If these exceptions are not adhered to by users, Unsplash has the legal right to take action on behalf of themselves and their photographers.
Unsplash names two exceptions to copyright on their site, and one of them should concern you as a content creator on YouTube:
- You can not sell photos without significant modifications.
- You can not compile Unsplash images to create a similar or competing service.
If you need any clarification on the second restriction, it just means that you can’t use their content to create your own stock image website. The first restriction can be a bit tricky when it comes to something many YouTube creators sell, merchandise. So, if you use an unaltered image from Unsplash in your video and a subscriber comments that they loved the photo, you can not print a thousand copies of that image as is and sell it to your subscribers.
It is not clear if it’s just prints of the photo or if slapping the image on a tote bag or sweatshirt would qualify, but it would be best not to dance that line. If you like a photo from Unsplash, your best bet is to use it as inspiration to create an original image or heavily alter the original image.
Thousands of images may come with no restrictions beyond what is stated on Unsplash’s website, but using certain images on the site may be a gamble. The fact is that photographers cannot provide rights for certain content in their photographs if they have not collected them.
Here are a few examples of several rights a photographer may not have gotten releases for:
- Property Rights
- Model Rights
So, suppose the photo you use has an identifiable person in it. In that case, that model has to sign a release to the photographer or Unsplash for that photo to be used— the same goes for property owned by anyone other than the photographer.
You might be shocked to know that Unsplash does not validate the collection of these releases from the photographers who upload their images to the site— they are working under an honor system. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the law. Luckily, there are sites that have YouTube thumbnail templates and other graphics you can use for your channel, without worry, like placeit.net.
Other than the issue of copyright, licensing, and proper releases to use Unsplash photos, you have YouTube’s community guidelines that should concern you. These guidelines are set in place for everyone to feel safe and welcomed in the YouTube community.
YouTube’s Community Guidelines are extensive and require a thorough read, regardless of whether you think your content wouldn’t violate these guidelines. They fall under five main categories and span over twenty-two subjects, including:
- Spam & Deceptive Practices (Impersonation, Fake Engagement, External Links, etc.)
- Sensitive Content (Child Safety, Nudity and Sexual Content, Suicide and Self-Harm, etc.)
- Violent or Dangerous Content (Hate Speech, Harassment and Cyberbullying, Violent or Graphic Content, etc.)
- Regulated Goods (Firearms, Sale of illegal or regulated goods and services)
- Misinformation (Election Misinformation, Vaccination Misinformation, etc.)
Any violation of these guidelines could result in a video being taken down and a warning or strike being given to the creator. Three strikes within a 90-day period could result in the termination of the creator’s YouTube channel.
The safest approach for using free and royalty-free images on YouTube is to make sure that the site you’re obtaining them from has done its due diligence in ensuring its photographers have obtained all the necessary releases for their licensing to be airtight. Unsplash is a great resource for royalty-free images to use on YouTube, but our personal favorite remains Placeit because of their YouTube thumbnail templates.