Michelle Phan Sued Over Music Rights: How Will Brands and Influencers React?

Legal battle highlights increased scrutiny on popular content creators

YouTube makeup maven Michelle Phan

Makeup guru Michelle Phan, one of YouTube's most popular publishers with over 6.7 million subscribers, may have the vast influence that can give brands the exposure they crave. But that hasn't stopped electronic dance music label Ultra from suing her for allegedly using its music without the proper license.

Reuters reported that Phan is being sued by Ultra Records and Ultra International Music Publishing, which allege that she has used "dozens" of songs in her tutorials. They are asking the YouTube content creator stop using their music and pay up to $150,000 for each usage violation. Ultra's current repertoire of artists includes EDM superstars Kaskade, Fedde Le Grand, Benny Benassi, Axwell and The Bloody Beetroots.

Stacy Debroff, CEO of social media firm Mom Central Consulting and a former litigator, said that if what Ultra claims is true, then it is "definitely an unlicensed use." "You absolutely and unquestionably have to get a license to use music. It's not that hard to do, and it's ultimately not that expensive to do," she said.

While labels likely won't sue individuals who use one or two tracks, Debroff said they would take action if the music leads to monetization, like a company using its music in marketing campaigns or online publishers utilizing it as part of their careers. Phan not only sells advertising against her videos, but she uses the publicity to help promote her other ventures including a makeup line.

"This is an individual who has branded herself but doesn't have the sophistication of brand," Debroff said. 

Most established marketers know how to navigate the rights space and rarely run into these issues. However, Instabrand.com CEO Eric Dahan said the looming potential of lawsuits and the tangled web of negotiating licenses might discourage brands from creating quick pieces that respond to current topics, which would have spoken directly to their target demographic online.

"All in all, incorporating usage rights into the content of influencers restricts them from properly doing what they do best, interacting with and creating popular culture which points to a possible fundamental flaw in the music industry as it stands today," he pointed out.

Phan's lawyers claimed to TMZ that Ultra had given her permission to use its music, and it benefited from the arrangement because the makeup artist "showcased them to an international audience." The attorneys said she plans to countersue the record label.

As for the artists themselves, Phan's got at least one fan among the mix. Kaskade himself has tweeted his support for the YouTube celebrity. 



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