YouTube makeup vlogger sued by record label for $150K per song

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Makeup vlogger Michelle Phan, who's huge on YouTube, is on the receiving end of a copyright lawsuit over the background songs in her videos.

Ultra Records says she used 50 songs from acts represented by the label without consent--even though at least one of the label's own artists says she has that artist's consent. Ultra is seeking penalties of $150,000 per song, which adds up to $7.5 million total sought.

[BBC via Ars Technica]

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  1. Still don't know why having a song on in the background of a video isn't fair use. It's not like people are going to be able to use a Phan video as a replacement for buying the thing on iTunes or anything.

  2. So did they willfully ignore the mechanisms for youtube takedown until there was the potential for a sizeable payout via lawsuit?

  3. Just went and checked. It looks like she ends videos with a song note (artist & song title) and the same credit is available in the info if you pull down. There, she also includes a hotlink to a purchase location.

    It doesn't look like she was intentionally shortchanging the musicians. She may not have realized that she needed to provide further compensation to them directly if early on she asked artists for permission and they gave it. I have a feeling this is a case of her just getting too successful and not altering her business practices to match. Hopefully they'll reach a settlement that everyone agrees on.

  4. Phan is making money from her videos. Though I can't substantiate this, I read in other discussions that she got a deal from youtube for a million bucks for a series of her videos. Nothing wrong with that, good for her! But between that, a book deal, a cosmetic line, and something with Dr. Pepper (based on the court filings), one would expect to be in good standing when in comes to music licensing.

    This is essentially the same if your favourite tv show featured music and said screw it to getting proper licensing for it.

    Also, if the videos are synced up to the music (ie. transitions with the beat) it makes a big difference, you can't claim it's just a background track anymore. From the one song I had to get properly licensed this changed the prospective fee 3-fold.

    Yes, the music licensing system needs a huge revamp, if not complete destruction, but this isn't some poor vblogger vs monolithic record label. I would almost think the vblogger is more known than the label, but neither is my thing, so no idea.

  5. I agree.

    I do think it may just have been oversight on her part because her business has grown rapidly. She'll have to pay a price for that. Hopefully it won't be too bad, because she was acknowledging the artists and (I believe) making the music links available. Their "loss" wasn't the claimed loss - they're just seeking penalties on a deep pocket case.

    I'm guessing that the judge will probably require info about what they would have charged for this type of license in the first place, and then fiddle with it a bit to make sure she understands she broke a law.

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