This Revolution Will Not be Monetized

A few days ago this video, “JK Wedding Entrance Dance,” cropped up online:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-94JhLEiN0]

I’m no fan, but the mainstream appeal is clear: the video has almost 13,000,000 views. I’ll allow Wired.com to explain what happened next:

On YouTube’s business blog, technical account manager Chris LaRosa and music partner manager Ali Sandler describe how Chris Brown and Sony Music managed to capitalize on the 12 million-plus times people have watched the “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” video, which shows Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz’s wedding party boogieing down to the Chris Brown song “Forever.”

“The rights holders for ‘Forever’ used [YouTube's content management tools] to claim and monetize the song, as well as to start running Click-to-Buy links over the video, giving viewers the opportunity to purchase the music track on Amazon and iTunes,” they wrote. Not only did the song rise to No. 4 in the iTunes music store and No. 3 on Amazon, partly as a result of YouTube’s links, but Sony and Chris Brown also collect a share of revenue from Google’s text ads on the page itself.

The wedding video is inspiring people to click through from YouTube to Amazon and iTunes at twice the normal rate, according to LaRosa and Sandler. And the effect appears to be spreading to YouTube’s official music video page for the song, where they say the click-thru rate has increased 250 percent over the past week.

And the kicker:

Unfortunately the newlyweds depicted in the video aren’t making any money from the video’s millions of views, which would have surely helped defray their wedding and honeymoon costs. YouTube spokeswoman Jennifer Neilsen confirmed that Sony is the one monetizing the video, and that the people depicted in the video are not part of the revenue equation.

This is very frustrating. Worse still is YouTube’s prideful gloating about finally monetizing a video.

Sony’s implicit logic is that because that they own the rights to the music they could have the video removed. Since it remains online by their good graces alone, they are entitled to all click-through revenue that the video generates.

This makes sense legally (it shouldn’t) and is exactly the kind of arrogance I expect from Sony. It’s also a terrible way to engender consumer loyalty. The increased Chris Brown sales would not exist were it not for the video. Taking advantage of content creators and then leaving them out in the cold is not a viable long-term strategy. If users feel that their work is going to be leveraged by others to great effect, they’ll stop sharing it.

An even more egregious example of the one-way flow of content control was South Park’s Internet Meme episode. Viacom felt entirely within its rights to take the likeness of iconic Internet/YouTube celebrities and use them in the episode to generate ad revenue. If those same Internet celebrities uploaded clips of the episodes that featured their claims to fame to their own YouTube channels they would receive takedown notices. This is completely unfair.

Both of these are examples of a larger issue at play which is tightly knit with copyright law. The use and compensation surrounding content between individuals and media companies is not bidirectional. YouTube is not only complacent, but jubilant at the prospect of allowing its users to be exploited. And worst of all, I had to listen to a Chris Brown song to write this post.

Something has to change.