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Can a YouTube Video Send You to Jail?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Can a YouTube video send you to jail? The answer, potentially, is yes, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

The question typically gets asked with regards to posting copyrighted material on YouTube. That can indeed lead to potential fines or lawsuits, YouTube advises, but it generally won't result in an arrest or incarceration. (However, a pending Senate bill could change that, as discussed below.)

There are other ways that a YouTube video could send you to jail, as some unlucky YouTube users have discovered. These include:

  1. Editing videos, with unintended consequences. Getting too creative with a YouTube video can send you to jail. Just ask Evan Emory, a 21-year-old Michigan man who sang to young children -- and then re-edited the video to make it look like he serenaded them with sexually provocative lyrics. Parents complained, and Emory was charged with manufacturing child sexual abusive material, reports. A plea deal got him jail time for his attempted joke.

  2. Making law-enforcement officers angry. Anthony Graber of Maryland was arrested for recording a traffic stop and posting it online -- an alleged violation of wiretap laws, The Baltimore Sun reported. But a judge later threw out the charges, finding Graber was well within his rights. Graber's ordeal shows how police can potentially, and wrongly, arrest you when a YouTube video makes them mad.

  3. Showing evidence of criminal activity. This is especially true if you vandalize or fool around with police property, as one Wisconsin man did in a serial "planking" spree posted to YouTube. Online clips of beatings and other alleged crimes have also gotten people arrested.

  4. Violating internet-use restrictions. In some states, convicted sex offenders are prohibited from using the Internet, including YouTube. The ban applies even if you're a 77-year-old YouTube sensation known as the "singing sex offender," CBS News reports.

  5. Posting copyrighted material (potentially). Senate bill 978, known as the Commercial Felony Streaming Act or "Ten Strikes Bill," could potentially impose a five-year jail sentence on those who embed an infringing YouTube video that's seen by more than 10 people, according to Gizmodo. But the bill's authors insist it's only aimed to stop unlawful profiting off copyrighted clips. The bill still has a long way to go before it potentially becomes law.

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