Happy Birthday" or a bunch of school kids singing "Rudolph The Red Nosed Raindeer" at the school Christmas play. The copyright to these songs are not public domain, therefore you have to pay their respective record labels and publishers for their use, regardless how trivial that use may seem.
But still millions of people put videos on YouTube every day of themselves lip singing to "Born This Way" or "Party Rock Anthem," but the publisher and/or record label has the legal right to ask YouTube to take these videos down. In fact, most record labels now have teams that do nothing but scour the Internet for just these sorts of copyright violations.
That said, YouTube is very good about complying with a takedown request, as evidenced by numerous videos that are here today and gone tomorrow. YouTube is not actually liable as long as they don't upload the videos themselves. If someone else does, they're in the clear.
Even though YouTube is very liberal with takedown requests, they seem to have given Universal Music Group unusual leeway by allowing them to directly remove any video that they don't like themselves. According to an article in techland.com, there's "an agreement between the company and YouTube that allows UMG to use a
“Content Management System” that can remove or “file block” certain
videos on the site if it finds them objectionable. The agreement in question is not public, meaning that no one outside of those
companies knows exactly how long UMG’s reach within YouTube actually is."
Here's the scary part. Does UMG have the right to control what videos YouTube allows on the
site, even if no copyright infringement is occurring? Does that mean it can block it's competition if it wants to? Does that mean it can take down a video even if it has nothing to do with UMG? What happens if it makes a mistake?
As an artist myself, I'm all for protecting copyright, but I find it disconcerting that a major label has this kind of power. YouTube is already very good about acting on any copyright violation request, and they do it fast (I've done it myself). But UMG's new powers can be deadly in the wrong hands.
There's more to this intrigue as UMG and the cloud site Megaupload continue in a battle over just this issue, so it will be interesting to see what the new year brings.
Happy Holidays everyone!