An independent record label claims that YouTube star Michelle Phan is using dozens of songs without permission in her popular series of beauty and makeup videos, and is seeking $150,000 per work in copyright damages.
In a complaint filed in Los Angeles, Ultra Records says it told Phan she needed a license to perform works by Kaskade and other artists but that Phan, whose “Barbie Transformation Tutorial” has been watched 50 million times, disregarded the request.
I watched one of Phan’s videos, “How to Master the High Heel,” and the label appears to have a point. Along with Phan’s tips on “how not to be a clunky horse,” the video includes Kaskade’s “Back on You” — several minutes of it at a time, and not just a short sample that might be considered fair use.
Phan did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment, but the lawsuit suggests her lawyers have been tracking the situation. Ultra Records’ complaint, embedded below, notes that Phan’s agents filed a counter-notification to YouTube — a legal process that people use to restore a work that is removed from the internet for copyright reasons.
The lawsuit reflects the growing importance to the entertainment industry of YouTube stars like Phan, who is known as a “beauty bestie” and whose picture has appeared on posters around the country. It also reflects independent artists’ tense relationship with YouTube, which can bring them money and exposure, but which is also a powerful force in royalty disputes.
I’ve embedded Phan’s high heel video below so you can judge for yourself. I’ve also posted the legal complaint that lists all the songs and artists involved in the dispute.