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The Top 3 Most Infamous Cases of Influencers vs. Fair Use Law on YouTube

As a YouTuber, you need to be aware of whether your videos are breaking the law – or you could end up with copyright flags 🚩 and video takedowns! Unfortunately, some popular influencers missed the mark on following fair use law on YouTube and ended up losing a ton of money in the process.

Luckily for us, we have the ability to learn from these YouTubers’ mistakes. With their cases in mind, we can take the proper precautions to avoid repeating their offenses and keep our videos and channels protected. 

Check out these top three most infamous cases of influencers dealing with the consequences of fair use law and misuse on YouTube to learn how you can keep yourself safe from the same type of trouble.

The Ultimate Copyright Battle: Michelle Phan vs. Ultra Records

What happened


Credit: Pixabay.com

Credit: Pixabay.com

Back in 2014, in perhaps the most infamous YouTube copyright battle, beauty 💄 guru influencer Michelle Phan was sued by Ultra Records. Specifically, the record company claimed that Phan had used a plethora of their songs in her tutorial YouTube videos without their permission. 

In fact, Ultra sued Phan for $150,000 per infringement, which totaled to about 50 cases.

Furthermore, even after one of Ultra’s musicians, Kaskade, publicly supported Phan’s use of his songs, the label continued with the lawsuit. They claimed that the suit was filed due to Phan’s large income 💰 generated from advertising on the videos in question. 

In the end, the terms of the settlement between Phan and Ultra Records were not disclosed. Furthermore, even the specifics of each side’s arguments are unclear and disputed. However, as always, there is a lesson we can learn from Phan’s experience.

The takeaway

Unless Phan received permission from Ultra Record’s marketing manager to use the music in her videos, as she claimed during the lawsuit, she did not follow fair use law.

However, even if we assume Phan did receive a license for these songs, we can still learn something from her experience: 

Anytime content creators receive a license to use a song, clip, photograph, or any other piece of art in their social media posts, they MUST retain a copy of this permission in written ✍️ form. Furthermore, any license should include a clear date of expiration or a notice of non-expiry in such cases.

Finally, it’s important for all influencers to keep in mind that anytime they’re making a profit – whether through brand deals or AdSense Revenue – their risk of copyright flags increases immensely. Therefore, YouTubers should be extremely careful in following fair use law in any videos with a revenue strategy.

The Personal Attack: Paul Davids’ Copyright Strike on His OWN Song

What happened

In this unique case, Paul Davids, a YouTuber known for his guitar 🎸 tutorial videos, received a copyright takedown notice for his OWN song!

After another YouTuber remixed and posted one of Davids’ original pieces of music, Davids received a copyright infringement notice. Furthermore, all of the revenue he was supposed to earn from the video was instead re-routed to the person who had actually stolen his material!

So considering Paul Davids didn’t technically break any fair use laws and still received a copyright flag, how can we learn from his situation?

The takeaway

While it’s important to understand fair use law on YouTube in order to keep your videos safe from copyright strikes, you should also consider how other YouTubers may steal your content and use it in ways they believe to be “fair”.

In Davids’ case, he decided to let the person who stole his music continue earning revenue 💸 from the video. However, not every influencer would be willing to let others profit off their hard work!

Therefore, if you’re going to post any original music, drawings, or other types of art on your YouTube channel, you should consider registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office first. Although your content is legally copyrighted the moment you create it, officially registering it provides you with an added layer of protection in court 🏛️.

Overall, Paul Davids’ case demonstrates how misuse of the fair use doctrine can result in a totally unfair situation, and proves that it’s often worthwhile to take extra steps to ensure total protection of our art.

It Can Happen to Anyone: MrBeast’s Strange Strike

What happened

In February of 2019, MrBeast was hit with a copyright strike for something that totally should have been considered fair use.

In his video “I Put 100 Million Orbeez In My Friend’s Backyard”, MrBeast’s friends were singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” – with NO ⛔ background music or tune of any kind. Furthermore, MrBeast had to investigate his own flagged video to determine why it had been taken down in the first place.

Finally, in order to post his video again, MrBeast had to remove the portion of the video in which the “song” appeared.

The takeaway

Unfortunately, MrBeast’s situation goes to show that the fair use doctrine is highly subjective and by no means a foolproof way to use copyrighted material in your YouTube videos.

As a social media lawyer, I would have said that MrBeast’s use of Bon Jovi’s song was incredibly transformative and should NOT 🙅‍♂️ have warranted a copyright strike. However, in the end, fair use law did not come through for MrBeast.

So what can we learn from this seemingly random occurrence of a copyright strike? In reality, no one is safe from copyright flags on YouTube, and even uses influencers believe to be “fair” should be posted with caution.