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?