The upside of being one of the brightest young stars in the first generation of YouTube celebrities is having a vast, passionate fanbase watch and share your videos. The downside of this is that some of the people who see those videos happen to be lawyers.
Beauty vlogger Michelle Phan has been hit with a $multi-million lawsuit from Ultra Records, for the unlicensed use of their music in her videos. Ultra is seeking up to $150,000 for each and every unlicensed usage, however no final figure has been set, as according to Ultra, “the full extent of Phan’s infringement has not yet been determined.”
“Ultra agreed to allow Michelle to use the music and Michelle intends to fight this lawsuit and bring her own claims against Ultra,” Phan’s representative explained in a statement to Mashable. “Michelle’s intention has always been to promote other artists, creating a platform for their work to be showcased to an international audience. Kaskade, whose music has been featured in Michelle’s videos, has publicly defended Michelle against Ultra’s claims and acknowledges the success he’s gained from her support.”
While the statement is predictably pro-Phan, it does raise an interesting point about Ultra’s approach. In an increasingly collaborative online world, it makes sense that Phan, a highly visible figure, would have actively sought the permission of Kaskade and other artists before featuring their work in her tutorial videos. However valid their claims, Ultra have painted themselves as poor sports by launching such a public campaign against the incredibly popular young personality, whose income and status on YouTube make her a lucrative target. Kaskade himself tweeted earlier this month that “Copyright law is a dinosaur, ill-suited for the landscape of today’s media.”
“This lawsuit is interesting as it marks a change in the ethos and perception of influencers and social media as a whole,” Instabrand CEO Eric Dahan told Media Bistro. “Up to this point, when music was played on an influencer’s channel, labels and artists were happy and saw it as free PR for their songs. However, now that there is more and more money pouring into the influencer and social space, it’s no longer being overlooked by the legal teams.” The question now, Dahan asserts, is whether all influencer networks will soon be forced to start brokering deals with artists and labels to avoid ending up in Phan’s situation.