What Does the Michelle Phan Lawsuit Mean for Other Beauty Vloggers?

July 29, 2014


If you haven’t heard, Michelle Phan got slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit by Ultra Records. The suit, which claims that Phan’s misuse of its artists’ tracks in at least 5 videos is “willful and deliberate”, is seeking up to $150,000 for each use – which could add up to about $8 Million. Ouch!


Phan claims publicly that Ultra gave her permission to used the tracks, which are mostly from Ultra Records artist Kascade, and is countersuing them. Kaskade, for his part, is defending Phan on Twitter, and has stated that he is not suing her – his record company is.


So what’s going on here? No one but Phan and Ultra know what really transpired between them, but Ultra and Sony announced a “strategic alliance” in January of this year, bringing more corporate power into the record label’s business. So maybe Phan is right – maybe Ultra did give her permission, but now that Sony is involved (and she’s all over the NYC subways in YouTube ads), there’s a push for some of the real money she’s earned.


The lawsuit claims that Ultra sent a take-down notice to YouTube, and Phan (through her attorney, presumably) sent a counter-notice. So this has been going on for a bit. It’s interesting that YouTube hasn’t taken anything down, either because they accept Phan’s right to use the tracks, or because they’re happy to make money in the meantime. But it’s Michelle who has to face Ultra in court.


And that’s the scary part for independent producers – the glamour of Phan’s story is the millions she has made from her videos, but a lot of other people have profited as well: YouTube, brands, agents, cosmetic company partners, and now, lawyers. But the suit only names Phan – who will have to pay the lawyers herself, even if she’s justified in her claims.


What does this mean for other beauty vloggers? If we get permission to use a track, can the artist (or label, in this case) change the terms after the fact? Would Phan’s videos have been as popular if she had used unknown artists?


What do you think?


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  • Joanne Sherrell July 29, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Surely if she’s claiming she got permission, there must be some kind of written agreement such as an email, etc. I guess as long as you ensure you keep proof of permission granted for using music on your videos, your safe. Music copyrights and royalties is a complicated thing.

    Beauty, Parenting and Lifestyle Blog

  • tianna July 31, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    I don’t really think a suit like this will even hold up in court. In cases of copyright infringement, you usually have to prove that you/your company sustained some kind of damage. In this case, they’ve profited and probably not sustained any kind of damage whatsoever. Not only that, but there are many artists Michelle Phan promotes in her YT videos that wouldn’t otherwise be as known as they are known, Kaskade included. She has also shared many other more indie music artists as well so I don’t really think sharing well known artists matters in terms of her success. In fact, having been a subscriber since way before she was e-famous, I can tell you that her earlier videos didn’t even have music. They were her in a bathroom applying eyeliner or demonstrating a helpful face mask or something. The only thing we can really say for other vloggers is make sure your contract is in writing, not just verbal, and that is continually stays up to date to protect yourself. I think it’s also important to mention that while she might have to pay her lawyer, initially, if she wins the countersuit, that usually covers damages and attorney fees.

    • Meli Pennington July 31, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      Tianna, we can’t know from the outside what their agreement was (or wasn’t), but the need to have proper legal rights to music for video productions is well established. Filmmakers know this, and won’t use *any* track without permission, no matter how “indie” their production is. Just saying you’re promoting artists isn’t enough when it’s someone else’s copyright.

      The big question I see is whether Ultra (or Sony) want to change the terms of an agreement (if they have one) after Michelle’s success. If they do, and get away with it, that’s a dangerous precendent. Lots of vloggers start in their bathrooms – Michelle has definitely gone Pro and has to have pro legal agreements, at least going forward. But if she had a true prior agreement with Ultra, she should be able to keep her “back catalogue”, as they say…

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  • cat eyes & skinny jeans August 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I think it’s a scary situation for vloggers in general. I have nephews who watch gamer videos on YouTube, and those vloggers are very careful about ever allowing the music from the games to play while they’re filming. As much as music adds a nice vibe to videos; maybe it’s safer to simply do without to avoid these types of legal issues.


  • Akaleistar August 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    It will be interesting to see how this case progresses.

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