One of YouTube's Biggest Stars Fights Back in Copyright Lawsuit

Self-made mogul Michelle Phan is embroiled in a legal battle over her use of music in her popular YouTube videos.

Phan’s legal troubles began in July when music label, Ultra Records, filed a suit against her for copyright infringement. Ultra alleged Phan used songs and compilations owned by the label as background music for her YouTube videos without first obtaining a license to do so. Phan has responded to Ultra’s complaint, and has also filed a counterclaim, stating that, although she did use some of the songs and compilations in question, her use is pursuant to an agreement she had with the label.

Specifically, her counterclaim refers to communications she had with Ultra’s Senior New Media Manager, Jason Kilgore, where she asked his permission to use music by Ultra artist Kaskade in her videos. Phan alleges that Kilgore, being aware of Phan’s large YouTube following, was “more than happy” to let her use the content, with Phan agreeing in return to credit the artist. Phan also states that Kilgore referred to an existing agreement Ultra allegedly had with YouTube, whereby YouTube’s Content ID System would automatically track Ultra artists whose content was used in uploaded videos. The content ID system would trigger a “claim”, whereby Ultra would be made aware of the use and would automatically receive a share of the advertising revenue generated by the video. Phan has stated that Kilgore promised to release any “claims” against Phan, thus leading to an express/implied license to use Ultra’s copyrighted content. 

In addition to damages, Phan is seeking a declaratory judgment against Ultra stipulating that she has a non-revocable license to use the content in question and has not infringed on any of Ultra’s copyrights.

Michelle Phan quickly rose to fame for her makeup tutorial videos, which have garnered a following of over 6.7 million YouTube subscribers. Phan’s popular videos have snowballed into a robust career— she now has various sponsorships form big companies like Dr. Pepper, paid advertisers in her videos, and her own line of cosmetic products backed by L’Oreal. 

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