Michelle Phan, an entrepreneur and video makeup artist, is no small fry in the world of YouTube celebrities. Her YouTube channel boasts over 6 million subscribers, thanks to her 300+ makeup tutorial videos.
With Phan’s level of exposure, it’s hard to get away with copyright infringement. That’s why Ultra Records is suing her for using its artists’ music (e.g., Kaskade and Deadmau5) in her videos without permission. The Verge reports that Ultra Records asked Phan repeatedly to stop using its artists’ tracks, but to no avail.
So far, the suit isn’t looking good for Phan because Ultra Records…
- Found 50 examples of copyright infringement in Phan’s videos so far.
- Wants to ban Phan from using its music.
- Seeks maximum statutory damages of $150,000 for each infringed work.
If a judge awards the maximum, Phan could be looking at $7.5 million worth of damages. Entrepreneurs and startups, take note: copyright infringement is serious business.
The Price of Fame Is Scrutiny: How Copyright Infringement Can Sneak Up on Small-Business Owners
Phan wasn’t always a megawatt name with her own beauty product subscription service and partnerships with some of the industry’s biggest players (such as Lancôme and L’Oreal). She started out as a one-person blogger back in 2005 (on Xanga, no less), and in 2007, she started publishing her tutorials on YouTube. Because of the viral (and unpredictable) nature of Internet videos, Phan’s star seemed to rise overnight.
In all likelihood, Phan probably didn’t realize the harm in using her favorite tracks to accentuate her vlogs, especially when she was first starting out. After all, she is just one blogger! Is it really that big a deal? (Hint: yes. Read “Viral Marketing on Social Media: Bigger Audience = Bigger Risk” for more.)
Even if you’re not a business owner, you can’t distribute someone else’s intellectual property without permission. Copyright holders have exclusive rights to their work, which means you must have consent before you publicly display their material. You need to ensure you have the right to publicly reproduce…
- And more.
For more on copyright regulations, see “Copyright Laws & Social Media: A Small Business Guide.”
Tread Lightly: How Small-Business Owners Can Avoid Copyright Infringement Lawsuits
When you’re a business owner – especially one that generates millions in advertising revenue alone – copyright infringements are hard to miss and harder to forgive. But even as a small-business owner who doesn’t have that level of visibility, you don’t want to risk losing your hard-earned revenue on a lawsuit that could be easily avoided.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Never publish copyrighted content on your social media pages without permission. If you must use it, only do so after you get written consent from the copyright holder.
- When in doubt, don’t rely on the “fair use” defense. As a commercial entity, it might be difficult to claim that you used copyrighted content without permission for the sole purpose of criticism, parody, teaching, or research. At the end of the day, you are running a business, and any boosts to your visibility could be seen as you profiting from the copyrighted material.
- Always carry adequate Advertising Liability Insurance. This is included in most General Liability Insurance policies. It can cover your lawyer fees, settlements and judgments, and other court costs when you’re sued for copyright infringement.
To learn more about how to protect your business from the perils of social media marketing, check out our other advertising injury blog posts.