The short answer to this question is simple:
Don't use ANY footage in a film unless you either (a) created the footage yourself, or (b) have obtained a license from the owner of the copyright in the footage. The footage is most certainly protected by copyright, and owned (in all likelihood) by the person who filmed it (or their employer, if it was a business). The mere fact that someone uploaded a video to youtube or vimeo is irrelevant as to ownership.
Another SUPER-Important consideration when doing pieces featuring music, is that permission must be obtained from the owner of copyright in each musical composition incorporated in the film. (i.e., each song the artist performs, whether written by himself, or by others). If he's the songwriter, he may actually not own the right to authorize use in a movie. If he has a contract relationship with a music publishing company, That company must issue a license for each song. (a "synchronization" license is what's required.)
AND, if you're using a recording (other than a live-captured recording at the time of filming), you'd also need permission from the Record company. (this is called a Master Use license)
So, get started asking for the permission you need.
Hope this helps.
Mr. Firemark is an entertainment attorney based in California and also teaches Entertainment Law in Columbia College Hollywood's film program. He's the producer and host of Entertainment Law Update, a podcast for artists and professionals in the entertainment industries and the author of The Podcast, Blog and New Media Producer’s Legal Survival Guide.
Firemark's Legal Forms & Contracts for Documentary Filmmakers are offered exclusively here on Desktop Documentaries.
In addition, Mr. Firemark is the instructor for Legal and Business Essentials for Documentary Filmmakers.
The Law Offices of Gordon P. Firemark cover intellectual property, cyberspace, new media and business/corporate matters for clients in the entertainment industry. More Info: Law Offices of Gordon P. Firemark; Theatre, Film, TV & New Media
This content is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice. No recipient of this content should act or refrain from acting on the basis of content without seeking appropriate legal advice or other professional counseling.