YouTube Stars Aren’t Above the Copyright Law

YouTube is an amazing platform that allows users to upload their own videos, but sometimes people, including entertainers, will use copyrighted music to enhance these videos, which could lead them to be muted or removed, or incite legal action.


YouTube star Michelle Phan recently reached a settlement with a record label following her use of certain songs in her music videos. She had used songs from artists Kaskade, Deadmau5 and Calvin Harris – all signed to Ultra Records, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Phan has a number of endorsement contracts with companies such as Endemol, L’Oreal Cosmetics and Dr. Pepper, and thus, profits from the videos that she posts to YouTube.

Ultra claimed that Phan received millions of dollars from her videos that used music produced by artists on its label, according to the news outlet. Phan, however, asserted that she had received permission to use the music. She explained that she had market power, and that record labels wanted her to use their music to promote their artists to her legion of fans.

Phan and Ultra ultimately reached a settlement in their legal dispute – though the terms have not been released. However, it is important that other entertainers note that star power and a collection of valuable fans does not make the use of copyrighted music in productions such as YouTube videos all right.

Seeking out royalty-free music to avoid disputes

In general, it isn’t OK to use an artist’s music in a YouTube video, or any other sort of promotional fare, unless the work is in the public domain or the owner has given permission, ReelSEO explained. One exception is royalty free music, which isn’t in the public domain, but can be used freely. For example, Kevin MacLeod runs Incompetech, a website that offers royalty free music for use. ReelSEO actually noted a number of websites that offer royalty free music downloads:

YouTube runs a copyright tracking system called ContentID to detect unlicensed use of certain works such as the songs used by Phan in her YouTube videos. Entertainers who utilize YouTube should be wary of violating any copyrights with their background music, or use of any other sort of copyrighted work.

Mythical copyright workarounds that just aren’t real

Even if a YouTube video isn’t monetized, there’s still a chance that the owner of a song used could force a takedown of the video, ReelSEO explained. This is a reason why it is always important to seek out a license if an entertainer does intend to use potentially copyrighted music in his or her YouTube videos.

Additionally, some YouTube users attempt to diffuse their potential copyright violations by including blurbs in video descriptions that take care to acknowledge the owner of the song and note that there was never any intent of copyright violation. This, however, is not a legal protection, and if the owner of a certain song decides to take action, he or she likely has every right.

To learn more about copyright law, and the use of certain songs or other works in YouTube videos, contact a well-informed lawyer on entertainment law.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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