One of Phan's most popular videos is based on Lady Gaga's look in "Bad Romance." Credit: YouTube
Michelle Phan has garnered millions of adoring Internet fans for teaching them how to look like Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie or even Barbie, but a popular dance music record label is not one of them.
Ultra Records LLC and Ultra International Music Publishing LLC are suing Phan for copyright infringement, alleging she used songs and compilations from some of the world’s biggest dance music DJs and groups in her creative videos without a license.
The case, filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, makes it clear the label has only begun its search of Phan’s many online productions, but has so far uncovered dozens of infringements, according to the complaint. Those videos have been viewed more than 150 million times, the plaintiffs said.
Among the Ultra artists Phan seems to have used the most, the complaint said, is Kaskade, a globally renowned U.S. DJ who was nominated for a Grammy last year.
Phan rose to prominence on the Internet with cosmetic and make-up instructional videos. Her “Barbie Transformation Tutorial,” in which she instructs on how to look like the iconic plastic doll, has been viewed more than 54 million times. Her Lady Gaga how-to, more than 45 million times.
Phan has more than 6.6 million subscribers to her YouTube video channel.
As one of YouTube’s biggest stars, she has participated in an advertising campaign for the online video service and in national advertising for Dr. Pepper.
Her videos have become increasingly sophisticated, showing Phan in different locales, some resembling music videos themselves. They continue to offer make-up advice, and are often accompanied by music.
The record label and music publisher contend Phan has profited from the use of their artists’ tracks and compilations. For instance, in her “Night Life Favorites” video, Phan advises on what to carry for a night on the town. The suit said the video uses Kaskade’s song “4AM.”
Her Internet fame has also led to a book and the design of a makeup line, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs said Phan had been informed she did not possess a license “and yet continues to willfully infringe in blatant disregard of Plaintiff’s rights of ownership."
The companies are seeking an injunction to stop Phan's use of the music and either maximum statutory damages of $150,000 for each infringed work or unspecified damages to be determined.
Attorneys for Phan or the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment.