Fitness star Jillian Michaels never intended to become a YouTube star, at least not in the way that she has. The Biggest Loser coach is suing Lionsgate Studio for using content featuring Michaels on its popular YouTube channel BeFit. Michaels claims that she has never been compensated for the use of her image and likeness and that the footage on BeFit constitutes a breach of her 2007 contract with the studio. Claiming that Lionsgate has generated millions in profits using her content, Michaels is suing her former studio to the tune of $10 million.
It’s the sort of case that could only happen in new media. Back in 2007, Jillian Michaels signed a contract with Lionsgate that specifically laid out when and how footage of her could be used and how much she was to be compensated in return. The contract presumably covered everything from television to direct video sales. The contract allegedly also placed a cap on how many videos Lionsgate was allowed to upload to YouTube. Unfortunately this was 2007, the partner program was in its infancy and no one imagined what a profit powerhouse YouTube, and channels like BeFiT, would become as a result.
BeFiT was launched in 2012 as part of YouTube’s Original Channels initiatives. Lionsgate received funding from YouTube to the launch the health and fitness focused channel using a mix of new content created specifically for the web and archival footage from its extensive catalog of television and video programming. It currently boasts 1.5 million subscribers and more than 200 million views. Though Michaels’ contract did place a cap on YouTube uploads, it didn’t anticipate those uploads generating any significant profit. Michaels and her lawyers claim that she should be entitled to a percentage of those profits in the same way that she would any profits generated by home-video sales.
Regardless of how the court rules in this case, it likely won’t be the last of its kind that we see. As more and more major media companies flood onto YouTube, either through programs like Original Channels or of their own accord, there will be more demand for fresh content. For legacy media that will often mean digging into the archives and pulling out footage that was created long before YouTube existed under agreements that couldn’t possibly have predicted the existence of YouTube profits.
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