Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Lesson Behind Rebecca Black Pulling "Friday" From YouTube

Today comes the news that Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video is no longer available on YouTube. No great loss there, but what is intriguing is that apparently the video was pulled due to a copyright claim filed by Rebecca Black herself. While it’s not exactly clear what's behind this, the video had amassed 167,370,534 views before it was taken down.

The second interesting piece to this is that ARK Music Factory, the company that produced the song and video, had experimented with a $2.99 YouTube rental earlier this week. From a sales perspective, this was about 150 million views too late, but that's not the point. Regardless if you like or abhor the song, there's a bigger lesson here.

Just a little background: Rebecca's mother paid ARK Music Factory $2,000 to produce the song and video. As these things go, no one expected anything other than a vanity release with a few thousand views if she was lucky. Much to everyone's surprise, the video blew up, went viral and was quite the rage for about a month or so, although more for the general awefullness (is that a word?) of the song and video than anything else.

Now here's where the business part of it gets intriguing. If ARK/Rebecca had the presence of mind to set up as a YouTube affiliate after they saw it blowing up, it's possible that about $100,000 could have generated from adverts (which is a pittance for 150 million of anything). It's also rumored that there was about 300,000 digital sales of the song (although there's no way to verify that), which would've brought in about another $200k. The big question is - who got the money?

This is where the lesson comes in. Was the $2000 Rebecca's mom paid ARK a buy-out? If so, what did it buy out? Who owned the song? Who owned the publishing? Was there even a contract that stipulated any of this? Did ARK or the Black's try to get around a signed agreement?

Without knowing any of the details, on the surface it seems like ARK wanted to generate some last minute revenue so they slapped a $2.99 rental on. The Blacks, unhappy with their end of the payout, retaliated by filing a copyright claim to take the song down. YouTube doesn't necessarily care who owns the rights; all it cares about was that someone claimed copyright infringement, so they play it safe by taking action, so the song came down.

So the lesson? This is a highly unlikely scenario that probably won't be repeated for a long time (at least in this fashion), but it's always, always, always best to have these things worked out ahead of time just in case some unforeseen success occurs. Establishing ownership of any intellectual property up front is by far the least painful scenario in any creative venture - even one as far fetched as Rebecca Black's "Friday." You've been warned.
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