Michelle Phan has achieved the YouTube dream with about 6.7 million subscribers on her YouTube channel which was started in 2007. But now Phan faces a law suit which is anything but a dream come true.
Ms. Phan, a self-made beauty how-to guru has built a mini empire around her YouTube channel on which she broadcasts her videos about style, looks and makeup. She has been featured in Dr. Pepper commercials and struck a deal to unveil her own line of cosmetics. The problem? Super popular videos created by Phan carry soundtracks she has never licensed for use. Now Ultra Records is demanding $150,000 per copyright infringement. Total damages? Ultra seeks a minimum of $15 Million.
Ultra, an electronic dance music label represents musicians such as deadmau5, Calvin Harris and Kaskade, all artists whose songs Ms. Phan has used as soundtracks in her videos.
Old School Copyright Law on the New School Playground
Ironically, while large brands in the entertainment industry spend millions on social media promotion to vie for attention, some of the same companies squelch their own viral spread by shutting down use of songs and clips that they didn’t authorize. Highlighting the conflicting views of all concerned, Kaskade, the artist whose work is primarily named in the complaint made this comment via Twitter regarding the suit:
Kaskade himself expressed further frustration when his own music was removed from his own Soundcloud account by that system’s copyright infringement detection system. Kaskade stated that today’s copyright laws were “a dinosaur, ill-suited for the landscape of today’s media”.
Finding a Balanced Approach to Copyright Law
How can a company strike a balance in copyright enforcement without shooting themselves in the foot? Some such as Disney have intentionally turned a blind eye to the use of its assets on YouTube. One recent example sited is a popular (albeit smaller scale in comparison with Phan) channel in which an independent singer did a cover of Disney’s song “Let it Go” from the animated film, Frozen. Thus far, Disney has opted to ignore this overt use of material despite the 74,000 subscribers that follow the channel.
Will entertainment brands such as Disney teach irritable record labels to relax? Or will laws change to suit the seemingly unstoppable social media movement?