When a YouTube video goes viral these days, it often means that the owner of that video also gains a financial benefit by generating income from it. What people don’t realize is that they must choose the appropriate distribution license so that their video can actually go viral. Thousands of people are making this simple common mistake.

There seems to be a key element that most YouTubers don’t understand. It’s for a good reason as well, because the license option of a video is somewhat hidden from the creator on YouTube. It is no secret that YouTube prefers that your video be distributed exclusively by them, and them alone. After all, if you are participating in revenue sharing with YouTube, it means that all of your video views will generate a portion of the profits for them as well.

Usually your reasons for wanting to go viral is simply to bring more attention to yourself and the content of your video. In a case like this, you want to enable your video to be distributed as easily as possible, in as many forms as possible. Choosing the correct copyright license for your video is incredibly important.

I will explain the license differences, but I before I do, I will provide two simple examples which reiterate my point. You may have been watching a TV news broadcast where they show “clips” of a video that is garnering a lot of attention on YouTube. More often than not, TV broadcasts only show a few second clips of a viral video. Even worse, they show the video in the background while the news anchor is busy talking about it. This phenomenon is usually due to the fact that the TV broadcasts only have “fair use” rights to cover the story.

“Fair use” generally means someone is legally allowed to re-use small portions of the video for the purpose of criticism or comment.

If the YouTube author had previously chosen the Creative Commons license option, the same video could have played in its entirety on television.

In another example, I watched a video where a customer was complaining in a very animated way about a particular store that was price gouging. Unfortunately in the heat of the moment the person was holding his camera sideways through parts of the film. At the end of the video, he mentioned “Please make this video go viral!” By default the video was released on YouTube with the “Standard YouTube license”.

As a result, the author of the video made it difficult for his video to actually go viral for a number of reasons:

1. Any major media source, namely television, couldn’t air his video in its entirety.

2. Anyone that wanted to fix the horizontal problem (which is possible) was unable to do so, because they are prohibited to reuse, edit, or manipulate the video.

3. Anyone streaming content (an internet TV show) couldn’t re-broadcast the video either. All they could do is link to the video on YouTube or embed the unedited version into their website from YouTube directly. At the very minimum they would be limited to show small clips or sections of the video under fair use laws while they commented about it.

The point here, is that the person who shot the video wanted it to go viral and to be seen by as many people as possible. By releasing it under the standard YouTube license, he limited the distribution possibilities. This situation is counter productive.

The point? As of the time of this writing, that video has whopping 60 views. I’ll be surprised if it goes viral anytime soon. Let’s use this as a learning experience.

If you have something that you’d like to go viral, investigate the Creative Commons license option. It’s a simple radio button that can be clicked in the video information section of your YouTube video.

Creative Commons generally allows reuse of the video while still maintaining the original version to be copyright by the creator. It means people can digitally manipulate your video, re-broadcast it in its entirety with other media transport methods, like TV, other YouTube videos, etc.

At this time, I must declare IANAL. (This acronym IANAL means “I am not a lawyer”), so please do your own research. If I, myself, ever produce a YouTube video that I’d like to see go viral, I will take extra time to choose the Creative Commons license instead of the Standard YouTube license to release it. I recommend you do the same.

The point of releasing something on the internet is to give it the greatest reach and exposure possible to the entire world. Don’t limit yourself, and the potential viral videos you create, because of a poor choice of which distribution license you’ve allowed it to be released.

If you haven’t learned about Creative Commons licenses yet, let this single article awaken you to what you’ve been missing. Take two minutes of your day and take a peek at http://www.creativecommons.org.

If you want to see the video I’ve referenced in this article, it is embedded on my blog for you to watch along with a more in depth analysis.