A couple days ago, someone sent me the lawsuit
that Ultra Records and Ultra International Music Publishing had filed against Michelle Phan, an incredibly successful "YouTube star" who has over six million subscribers to her YouTube channel
where she shares makeup tips. Ultra, a label for artists like DeadMau5 and Kaskade, sued, claiming that Phan used at least 50 of the songs it holds a copyright on without a license. The reason it's both the record label and the publishing arm that's suing is that they're going after her for both reproduction and
sync rights (you need a sync license if you use music with a video). Of course, it's also important to note that, these days, Ultra is effectively Sony Music
under a "strategic alliance"
in which Sony basically runs all of Ultra.
Phan's spokesperson is apparently claiming that she had a license
. Ultra insists she did not. Perhaps as interesting, rather than just claiming statutory damages of $150,000 (the maximum for willful), it leaves open the possibility of going after her for "actual damages." This almost never happens in a copyright lawsuit, in part because actual damages are nearly impossible to prove (often because there are none). However, Phan is apparently making a ton of money
these days, so the company seems to be leaving open the possibility that it can score some of the "profits" from the video. Though, I imagine they'll have a hell of a time proving that the profits are due to the music, rather than the other parts of the video.
Still, what makes this most interesting is that one of the musicians whose music is at the center of the case, Kaskade, has spoken out strongly in support of Phan, arguing that "copyright law is a dinosaur,"
that he supports Phan
rather than his label and... that she has great taste in music
. He also has highlighted that having folks like Phan promote his music helps people love that music (and buy it too):
A bunch of sites have covered those tweets, but few looked at the fascinating Tumblr post that Kaskade did a month ago, in which he trashed today's copyright laws
after a bunch of his music was taken down off of SoundCloud. He talks about doing a deal with the devil in signing with Ultra/Sony:
When I signed with Ultra, I kissed goodbye forever the rights to own my music. They own it. And now Sony owns them. So now Sony owns my music. I knew that going in. Soundcloud is beholden to labels to keep copyright protected music (read: all music put out by a label, any label) off their site unless authorized by the label. Am I authorized to post my music? Yep. Does their soulless robot program know that? Not so much. So some stuff they pulled was mistakenly deleted, but some tracks were absolutely rule breakers. The mash ups. (Read about those little beauties in “Politicking of a Mash Up”.) I post mash ups mainly because I don’t need to keep these things tucked under my pillow, pulling out my little Precious only to be played at gigs. You want to hear it? Grab it. Like it? Great. The end.
But the labels, they aren’t feeling this approach so much.
But then he digs in deep on how broken copyright law is, how scared old men running record labels are doing stupid things, and how it's all harming musicians
There’s always been this cagey group of old men who are scared to death of people taking their money. Back in the day, they were upset that the technology existed to record onto cassette tapes directly from the radio. “What! (Harumph!) Why will people buy music if they can just pull it out of the air?!” Yet, people still bought music. Because it was more accessible. Because more people were exposed. Because Mikey played it for Joey on the corner and then Joey had to have it. It’s music, and we buy what we love. We can’t love music we haven’t heard.
Innovation helps the music industry. The industry only needs to make the effort to keep up and adapt. Make no mistake: exposing as many people as possible to music - all music - is a good thing. Everyone wins. The artist, the audience, even the old guys who just want some more cash.
The laws that are governing online music share sites were written at a time when our online and real-life landscapes were totally different. Our marching orders are coming from a place that’s completely out of touch and irrelevant. They have these legal legs to stand on that empower them to make life kind of a pain-in-the-ass for people like me. And for many of you. Countless artists have launched their careers though mash ups, bootlegs, remixes and music sharing. These laws and page take-downs are cutting us down at the knees.
And yo, musicians definitely need knees.
And, from there, he notes that music sharing has been great for musicians by getting them more attention. And he argues that the labels should get with the program:
We have moved beyond the exhausting notion that our greedy hands need to hold onto these tunes so tightly. The world just doesn’t work like that anymore. I’d happily parse out the pieces of every song I’ve made for others to use. Remix that. Use that. Think you could do it better? Show me. It’s laughable to assert that someone is losing money owed to them because I’m promoting music that I’ve written and recorded. Having the means to expose music to the masses is a deft tool to breathe new life into and promote a song. It’s the most compelling advertising, really.
But it’s more than advertising. It’s sharing. If a person likes one song, then you know what’s likely to happen? They’ll press the download arrow and own it for free. You won’t believe what happens next! They become familiar with the artist, and seek out other material. Maybe they buy that. Maybe they talk about it online. Maybe they go to a show. Maybe they simply become a fan and tell a friend.
I’m cool with that. The labels should be too. It’s exactly what they’re trying to accomplish by funneling endless money for Facebook Likes, Twitter trending hashtags, and totally ridiculous impotent advertising campaigns. Let the people have the music. Or, to put it in language that makes more sense for the ones who can only speak dollar bill - Free the music, and your cash will follow.
It's a great read. And yet, now his works are at the center of a massive lawsuit that could end up costing someone millions of dollars even as he speaks out against the lawsuit. And, of course, Ultra could have just made use of YouTube's ContentID tools to either monetize or silence or take down Phan's videos. But, instead, the company chose to sue. It's not hard to see why. With so many of these lawsuits it's the same thing: jealousy. They see Phan being successful -- and they stupidly believe that it's just because of the music. And so they want their cut. And the way to do that is to sue. Because these days, that's pretty much all the legacy music industry knows how to do. To file lawsuits that just anger pretty much everyone else -- including the very musicians they claim to "represent."