Can YouTube Thumbnails be Copyrighted?

Can YouTube Thumbnails be Copyrighted?

The world of copyrighting can be quite tricky to navigate, and if navigated, it can cost you plenty of money. Technology has made it incredibly easy to right click and save images, text, and videos without much thought. Unfortunately, this is also a way that many people find themselves in trouble for infringing copyright laws.

Can YouTube thumbnails be copyrighted? Yes, YouTube thumbnails can be copyrighted. Although the images are small, and often part of a larger image, they can be copyrighted.

Consider using a copyright-free YouTube thumbnail maker to ensure your thumbnails are 100% legal, and even give you the option to copyright protect them yourself.

Because of this reality, it is crucial to understand how to find and use an image for a YouTube thumbnail properly. In this article, you will find out how to effectively use a thumbnail image for your YouTube video without running into legal trouble.

» MORE: Can You Use Google Images for a YouTube Thumbnail?

Are All Thumbnails Copyrighted?

Thumbnails seem to be such an insignificant part of the YouTube process; however, they are a significant factor in the amount of traffic that arrives at your channel. If you are monetizing your YouTube channel and using a thumbnail created by someone else to drive traffic to your channel, you are likely breaking copyright law. However, in law, this has been a slightly gray area, and there may be some exceptions to this rule.

Adam Garson explains some of the legal ramifications of thumbnail images in the article Thumbnail Images – Infringement or Fair Use. There are many laws and rules when it comes to using images for monetary gain without proper permission. When thinking of large images, the laws are quite clear; however, thumbnail images need to have a series of questions answered to determine copyright issues. Garson explains:

“The more transformative (i.e., changed) the use of the thumbnails and the more distant the purpose of the thumbnails are from the original purpose of the images, the more likely the use will be construed as fair use.”

Therefore, when you use an image for a thumbnail, it is likely fair use, but you need to use caution, especially if you have monetized your YouTube channel.”

» MORE: Are All YouTube Thumbnails Copyrighted?

How Do I Safely Use a Thumbnail Image?

When using a thumbnail image to drive traffic to your YouTube channel, the safest thing you can do is use an image that you created. Brad Templeton, author of 10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained, shares that any image you create and upload yourself is automatically protected with copyright and does not need to be registered. 

Because an image is copyrighted to the owner upon upload, it is imperative that you know where the photo is coming from that you are using. If you are using an image that belongs to someone else, you must have explicit permission to use the image for monetization. Without this express permission, you can be held liable for copyright infringement.

With that said, using a commercially approved YouTube thumbnail maker will allow you to skip all the hassle and use any of their photos without worry of copyright infringement. You can even use these thumbnails on your monetized videos!

» MORE: Can You Use Logos in Your YouTube Thumbnails?

What Happens When You Use a Copyrighted Thumbnail?

If you choose to play the risk game and use a random image from a search engine or other source without proper permission or credit, you can be held liable for infringement. If the owner of the image discovers it is being used, they have the right to request that the image be removed. If you fail to comply with the request, you could face a lawsuit.

You Have Permission

Let’s say you have asked the owner for permission to use their image for your thumbnail. Legally you have permission to use the image, and the owner cannot file charges against you. However, if you are planning to monetize with the image you are using, this needs to be disclosed to the owner of the image.

When gaining permission from the owner, you need to have it in writing, and you need to have specific disclosures included. The Stanford University Library offers the article The Basics of Getting Permission, which walks you through the process of legally using a copyrighted image, in this case, for your thumbnail on YouTube. 

The process you need to follow involves these steps:

  1. Find out if the item is copyrighted
  2. Determine who the owner is
  3. Understand the exact rights you need to use the image
  4. Contact the owner not only to get permission but to see what monetary compensation they are requesting for the use of the image. Note: Not all owners will request financial reimbursement, but it is professional to follow this step and not assume the image is free to use.
  5. Get permission in writing. If you are planning to monetize the channel using the thumbnail, you need to have this written into the permission as well, so there is evidence that it has been fully disclosed to the owner of the image.

Failing to follow these steps can result in legal action being taken by the owner of the image you are using.

How Do You Find the Owner?

Finding the owner of a photo can be a bit challenging, but it isn’t impossible to do. If you are looking at stock images, the individual likely sold the image to the specific company for use. Often, the owner’s name and contact information are present. 

If you are looking online and find an image that is not in a stock photo vault, the search may be a bit more challenging, but again, not impossible. If the photo is in a blog, the best starting point would be to reach out to the blog owner to determine where they got the photo and to find proper contact information.

Can You Use the Photo if You Can’t Identify the Owner?

Choosing to use a photo that does not belong to you and without proper permission for monetization is risky. While there aren’t filters like those in place for videos, it is easy enough for an individual to come across their photo and recognize it. If this happens, the best-case scenario would be a request to remove the photo. The worst-case scenario will be a legal case if monetization is involved. 

Ideally, you want to find the owner of the image before using it to benefit yourself. If you choose to ignore this recommendation, you need to be prepared for the consequences that may follow.

Use Your Own Photo

As you can see, many factors must be considered before using an image for a thumbnail. While the fair use policy may protect you, there is also a chance that it won’t. To avoid potential legal issues, it would be wise to use your own photo to drive traffic to your channel.

When you put a photo online, it is automatically copyrighted as your original work. You may wish to use the letter “c” inside a circle, but this is not always necessary. If you are searching online and find your image has been used by another individual, you have the right to request that it be removed. 

If you are in doubt of who the creator or owner is, don’t think it will just be okay to use the image. Find another image or create your own to save yourself a headache.

» MORE: How To Make A Custom YouTube Thumbnail [YouTube Tutorial]

Final Thoughts

While copyright laws can seem a bit overwhelming and challenging to follow, they are really in place to protect you. You must understand how they affect you and the decisions you make when posting thumbnails to your YouTube channel. Any time you use work that does not belong to you to benefit yourself, you must receive permission and often give credit. 

Don’t fall into the trap that providing credit is enough to allow the use of the image. Copyrighted images will not always be labeled as such. Therefore, you must do your due diligence to ensure you are following proper use guidelines.

We recommend using a commercially approved YouTube thumbnail maker to ensure you don’t get into a risky copyright infringement situation. The last thing you want is for your video to blow up and you get in trouble for the thumbnail!