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Music label sues YouTube “beauty bestie” over unlicensed songs

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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.

The YouTube ID of LfN1Ks_4dig?rel=0 is invalid.

Michelle Phan Complaint

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5 Responses to “Music label sues YouTube “beauty bestie” over unlicensed songs”

  1. snuggles

    The only reason why I know of this lady is because of Youtube’s ads all over Chicago. A “youtube celebrity” is a phenomenon I don’t understand. Now get off my lawn.

    It’s not worth record labels to go after personal videos using their music. However, Phan is a “celebrity” with a million plus subscribers and has been using music without attribution/licensing. Phan’s been able to make good money off of these videos, and it’s only right that artists get their cut. I’m just surprised that this hasn’t come earlier when the first deals started coming in. At some point a lawyer should have said, you know, did you have permission to use full songs? They’re not snippets, they’re the song!

    Madlyb’s right – the moment money started coming in, she needed to license music and the rest of her media. And it’ll cost her dearly.

  2. If she wasn’t famous then they wouldn’t be saying anything, but she should have asked for permission on if she could use the music or not.

    This has happened to other Youtubers before like on the channel Thisisacommentary. He did a video on Ratchets i believe and used just about every major song that was out at the time and had to take down his video, ask for permission and retake it.

    Long story short she should just take down the video,ask for permission,and remake it. But hey i just might not know what im talking about…

  3. Madlyb

    OK, I am assuming this regards music that Google has not licensed for use on the service, but that isn’t completely clear in the article as they do license some independent work.

    It does highlight a challenge for artists that use Youtube (like Phan) which is determining which music can and cannot be used without concerns.

    I am not making excuses for her. When this became a business, she should have treated all aspects of it like a business including properly sourcing her media, but for those just starting out, this is a good cautionary tale. Make sure you have clear licensing for all aspects of your content.

    • John Willkie

      Even if had a public performance license to the music, that doesn’t mean that a non-employee could create their own public performance, and it is unlikely such an imagined license would enable to sub-license the song to others. Nor would hat include a synchronization or mechanical license.

      This is an area that is complicated for some to navigate. The most important aspect here is that Michelle Pham’s attorneys make assertions to to get the videos back up. That makes her infringement “willful.” with a baseline of $150,000 per title (which can be trebled.)

      Don’t ignore takedown notices. Don’t assert you have rights where you have none. At least this case won’t result her having to engage in “orange is the new black.” If she loses, she won’t go to jail. She might end up with a legal action against her attorneys, though.