Gangnam Style Shows What Can Happen When You Don't Lean On Copyright

from the well,-look-at-that... dept

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you’re by now aware of Gangnam Style, the meme/song/video/dance craze/pop culture phenomenon by Korean pop star Psy, that was kicked off with this video, but has become much, much, much more.

Of course, there have been thousands of parody videos created, different versions of the song and a variety of other meme-related content. I was at a wedding a week and a half ago, and basically everyone there, including many of the “older generation,” were well aware of the song and ready to do the dance when the DJ played it. It’s basically everywhere. It’s become so popular that, this week, an attempt to do the video without the music but adding back in the “natural” sound effects, is pushing 6 million views all by itself.

Oh yeah, and the song is doing quite well on the charts as well. The song is currently at number 2 on the Billboard charts, but has recently hit number one in 10 countries, including the UK and Australia. Down in Australia, for the publication TheVine, Tim Byron explores the cultural phenomenon and notes that this appears to be the first song that started as a meme that made it to number one on the charts. Other songs have charted and then became memes, or were memes that charted — but not as high.

But, then, in the middle of the discussion, Byron makes a really interesting point:

One of Psy’s cannier moves has apparently been to waive copyright on ‘Gangnam Style’ so that anybody can use the music and the video as they like. Most of the social media response to ‘Call Me Maybe’ is basically different ways to say ‘this song is really catchy’. Once ‘Call Me Maybe’ truly became a famous meme, the meme was largely specifically about how catchy it was. ‘Gangnam Style’ is different. The social media response to ‘Gangnam Style’ is largely about absurdity, about the surrealism of the song and the video, not really about music for music’s sake. ‘Gangnam Style’ has become an event. It’s a piece of shared cultural currency which can be taken as known in a world which is increasingly nicheified.

I don’t know if Psy or his label has actually done anything explicit to say that he’s “waived” his copyright on Gangnam Style, but it is clear that he’s been perfectly happy to have tons of folks make their own versions, edit the video and much much more. Each one of those things only seems to drive much more attention to the original, which only helps Psy out even more.

So, even if it’s not really true that he’s “waived” the copyright on the song or video, can anyone honestly argue that copyright has had a significant hand in the Gangnam Style cultural phenomenon? If anything, it’s the fact that everyone ignores the copyright that has made it such a big deal. A large percentage of those derivative works and videos almost certainly “infringe” upon the copyright of both the song and the video. And yet each and every one of those “infringements” has probably helped Psy. You’d be hard pressed to find a single case where it has hurt him.

Hell, just imagine a world in which everyone making those response videos would have needed to get permission from Psy or his label. Does anyone think that, under those circumstances, it would be the same sort of cultural phenomenon today? Obviously, there’s no way it would be anywhere close to as big.

In other words, whether or not Psy waived his copyrights, it’s difficult to argue that copyright has had anything to do with his success with Gangnam Style and it seems clear that it is the fact that most people ignored copyright that has helped spread the song and video so far and wide.

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Comments on “Gangnam Style Shows What Can Happen When You Don't Lean On Copyright”

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Richard H. says:

Re: Big in Japan, or not

I’m from the states, currently studying in Japan.

First, in Japan, the song is pronounce “Kounan Style” rather than “Gangnam Style” because of the way it is written in Kanji.

Secondly, I can see why it won’t be popular in Japan. There are many K-pop artists that are famous and popular here but most of them are very good looking (both men and women singers). None of them look like Psy. And if it is for the novelty, which is the reason why it exploded in the US and other Western countries, Japan has enough fat middle-aged man dancing around to funny songs already, like Papaya Suzuki…IT’S NOTHING NEW HERE!

Anonymous Coward says:

This article is incorrect to use this video/song as evidence of the advantage/disadvantage of copyright, lack of copyright or ignoring of copyright.
You see the problem is that no matter how popular or well known this music/performance/artwork is, I personally hadn’t previously been aware of it and now that I am aware of it I find I do not care for it and therefore it has no relevance to me.

Try making your articles more inclusive if you wish to be taken seriously by disparate individuals of little or no relevance please.

Jay (profile) says:

Big in Japan, or not

Japan is busy locking down their culture. The same is going on in the Phillippines where just recently, they had their own SOPA style moment recently.

Further, Japan has had a recession since 1995 and no one has the ability to really invest a lot of money on entertainment. IIRC, TV consumption is going down along with internet usage. The prices are too high and the Fukushima incident has kept them occupied.

So I think they have quite a few things to worry about besides this one meme.

Milton Freewater says:

FWIW Call Me Maybe

“Tim Byron explores the cultural phenomenon and notes that this appears to be the first song that started as a meme that made it to number one on the charts”

Tim Byron is dead wrong. Call Me Maybe was first. It caught on as a video, then as a meme, before anyone cared about it as a single.

The catchy visuals in the CMM case was one professionally made lip-synch video that looked homemade (with Gomez, Tisdale, etc.), while the catchy visual in the GS case was one professionally made lip-synch video that looked like a talented amateur. In both cases, imitation videos sprung up all over, and THEN the song became popular.

In both cases, the line between infringement and a legitimate upload is irrelevant. The line does not exist. Most likely the rightsholder started the party in both cases, but in both cases the user cannot really tell. That’s the problem and the point.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Big in Japan, or not

I heard about it on Sept. 12. Only because my wife watches Good Morning America every morning and they did a bit about it.

It also came up again on Sept. 19 because a group of lifeguards at a city pool did their own video of it on their break and got fired for it.

Jz (profile) says:

disparate individual of little or no relevance

“the problem is that no matter how popular or well known this music/performance/artwork is, I personally hadn’t previously been aware of it and now that I am aware of it I find I do not care for it and therefore it has no relevance to me.”

And you have no relevance to us.

Culture is a group thing. The more people who share it the more value it has.

While you might want uniqueness to define culture I think you’ll find your disparity is only important to you.

Joe says:

Big in Japan, or not

Possible, one person is hardly a scientific poll. However, demographically, she was mid 20’s with a wide circle of friends, which is dead on for meme’s like this, so I’m going to double down and say while it can’t be proven with the information at hand, my strong suspicion is Gangnam style is significantly less popular in Japan than in the West. Any Japanese readers care to toss in?

Michael says:

I hadn’t heard of this song before I read this article, but that’s ok. Although this really isn’t my style of music, I’m glad that Psy isn’t using copyright as a beating stick, unlike seemingly 99.9% of other artists out there. Exposure isn’t just important — it’s essential. Without the internet exposure, Psy and his music video would be relegated to South Korea.

As far as Japan’s concerned, there’s not much love loss between the tow countries, unfortunately. They need to turn over a new leaf.

Ironically, I’ve been watching some Korean TV dramas (affectionately called ‘TV Novels’) lately as I feel that they’re better than what’s on TV here. We used to have quality TV shows left, right and center and now …nothing. All of those crime TV shows like NCIS and CSI, quite frankly, suck (Columbo is light-years better), as do all of those “reality” shows and other stuff.

I better stop myself before I go off on a tangent, but I hope you get my point.

Anonymous Coward says:

disparate individual of little or no relevance

“The more people who share it the more value it has”

This is the concept of “value” in it’s non-monetary sense?
That’s really going to sway business.

It has taken off and is a phenomena, well brilliant, that and $23.60 will get you a birthday beverage at ———.

http://—–.—–.com/——food/most-expensive———–drink-ever-23-60-plus-214200067.html *

Hmm, I know I can’t edit this after I post it and I don’t want to use a trademark without permission, it might be fair use but I better redact parts —- parts now redacted.

*This is an even more useless link than one to a paywalled site

fuchikoma says:

Open culture movements

If you want to see another example of what free allowance for copying can do, check out Touhou Project – the official material cannot be legally copied, but as long as it doesn’t get too commercial, anyone is free to make and sell derivative works based on it. It’s less visible here, but probably bigger, for much longer, than Gangnam Style.

william (profile) says:

I disagree.

One of the earlier communities that digged up Gangnam style is actually the North American Anime/Manga circle because in the song, “gangnam style” sounds like “Gundam style”, referencing to the Gundam anime series.

And one of the VERY FIRST COPYRIGHT TAKE DOWN on Youtube is the fan altered (or MAD) video, “Gundam Style”. I know it because I was one of the many people who got to see it, then found out it’s been taken down by copyright. I still remember the take down happened around August 20th and I was very pissed.

So no, Psy is no saint on the copyright take down business.

Up to this day that full video is still offline. You can however see a short version of it by the same author at

Tunnen (profile) says:

Big in Japan, or not

I sought out the original after seeing a parody of it by The Key of Awesome. It was parodying the song and North Korea. When looking up the original, I did come across a bunch of other parodies that ranged from great to awful to terribly awful. These included a Western (Cowboy), lolcats, Klingon, My Little Pony, Star Wars, and the list goes on.

I haven’t seen a song spawn this amount of parodies in a long time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, Gangham style is almost exactly like another single way back when from a group called OMC (Otara Millionaires Club). Their one and only real hit “How Bizarre” was very popular in their homeland without a music video, but really took off worldwide with a video that caught attention and got major rotation.

Shockingly, even without the internet and some requirement for a “meme” this group took off.

Psy is the same thing really. He’s well enough known in his home country, is an entertainer (rather than a musician, big difference) and away you go.

You don’t have to meme or knock it off for it to be popular. If you watch it’s track, it’s more to do with getting good exposure, the right audience, the right time… before this went “meme” he already appearing on Ellen show (huge reach in the US to a non-traditional target market… at home Moms and Dads who likely use Facebook, I think it is). From there is went.

Anonymous Coward says:

Open culture movements

Touhou’s distribution method sucks though. Since it’s self-published, the only way to get it legally is to be lucky enough to snag a CD from the very limited supply at certain events and shops. And the creator has made it clear he has no interest to license it outside Japan.

As for the derivative works, no one in Japan really bothers to take those down if they keep a low profile, since it’s far too entrenched a tradition at this point.

Violated (profile) says:


I have seen the meme for 3 or 4 weeks now of that damned guy doing pelvic thrusting in the elevator.

It is clear to see why this catchy song has become popular when the music video is both classy and absurd. Worse yet people who look at it say to themselves that this is easy in that they can do this. This has led to a lot of replication and parodies where some of them are very good.

Psy cannot be unhappy about this situation when popularity sure does sell and he could well sell out any planned event you could name. The sweet surgery taste of Korean K-Pop can be quite refreshing to many bred on the taste of hard-core western songs. Psy seems quite content even to the point of grading the parodies.

Well this Gangnam Style has not peaked yet in its popularity and this dance craze is breaking out all over. I personally cannot be unhappy when it gets many hot women shaking their butts. I am only left wondering how anyone can wear a yellow suit when they look like a walking banana.

Tim Byron (user link) says:

FWIW Call Me Maybe

Of course, I disagree that I’m dead wrong (read my article for more context), but I should also point out that ‘Call Me Maybe’ got to #1 in Australia (which is what I’m talking about) about three months before it did in the US, according to – I grant that it could have become a proper meme in those three months.

Also, I’m not entirely sure if Psy actually has waived copyright to the song. I wrote that because a Guardian article claimed it was the case. But then I did see this today: which at least shows that Psy’s record company didn’t get that memo…

Kunvay (profile) says:

Copyrights Management Is Key

The success of the Gangnam video is in part due to how the artist managed copyright. Just like with any law, how, when and if you choose to enforce a right, is an art not a science.

In this case it’s made smart business sense, but it may not for all artists. This artist made the choice not to invoke his copyrights, but he still has that choice to reel that in now or in the future. Copyright provides a choice, and we like the ability to have choice, and discretion in how we enforce one’s rights.

jsf (profile) says:

The internet makes this happen faster

This is similar to a number of niche non-english songs who’s popularity spreads around the world. The internet just makes this happen much faster than it used to.

A classic “pre-internet” examples include Du Hast by Rammstein. Catchy tune that almost everyone under a certain age has heard multiple times.

Back in the day this type spread happened almost exclusively via dance clubs. Now it happens via YouTube and the critical mass is reached much more quickly. Due to the time compression it has a noticeable effect on digital sales.

Milton Freewater says:

FWIW Call Me Maybe

“I should also point out that ‘Call Me Maybe’ got to #1 in Australia (which is what I’m talking about) about three months before it did in the US, according to – I grant that it could have become a proper meme in those three months.”

Hmm … well according to good old Know Your Meme, the original viral video with Gomez, Tisdale and Bieber was uploaded February 18, 2012. This followed Bieber’s tweet on 12/20/2011 which exposed his fans to the song.

From the site:

“On March 9th, the entertainment news blog Gawker published an article titled ‘Have You Heard ?Call Me Maybe,? the New Perfect Pop Song?’, which described the celebrity lip dub as ‘flawless.’ On March 12th, AOL published an interview with Jepsen, who credited much of song?s success to Justin Bieber?s promotion.”

According to Wiki, “Call Me Maybe” debuted at number 39 in Australia on the chart issue dated March 18, 2012, and four weeks later, rose to number one.

So the song was already a viral hit before it hit the Australian charts.

More to the point, it’s perhaps an even more interesting example of your theme, because the Call Me Maybe video was intended to look like infringement (fans lip-synching to something they don’t have the rights to). Then when copycats took the bait, Jepsen’s people winked. They WANTED Youtube infringement. PSY’s copycats seem to be more of an unexpected, happy surprise for him.

Tim Byron says:

FWIW Call Me Maybe

Milton Freewater: I’m well aware that Bieber helped promote ‘Call Me Maybe’ before it got to #1, but I don’t think that song was a meme the same way Gangnam Style was at that point. Bieber doing that was astroturfing/social media marketing. It was a fair bit afterwards that you started seeing the kind of parodies, celebrities singing it, image macros etc on the Know Your Meme page. Whereas Gangnam Style was all about that stuff from the start.

Milton Freewater says:

Re: FWIW Call Me Maybe

“I’m well aware that Bieber helped promote ‘Call Me Maybe’ before it got to #1 … It was a fair bit afterwards that you started seeing the kind of parodies, celebrities singing it, image macros etc on the Know Your Meme page.”

Not to flog a dead horse, but the main part of the Bieber promotion (after one tweet) WAS a celebrity lip-synch parody, and the video broke the song. It inspired copycats immediately, which is why Gawker wrote about it and where I first heard the song.

“The very first “Call Me Maybe” parody was also “the most commercially important,” says Ann Powers at NPR, since it both introduced Jepsen’s song to American ears and launched the craze of lip-synched videos. Recorded in February, before the song took off in the U.S., it starred teen idols Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Tisdale.”

Parag (user link) says:

I received a copyright infringement notice of my smash up of Gangam Style

I’ve written a bit and posted pictures of the copyright notice I’ve received in relation to my smash up of Psy’s Gangnam Style:

They claim I have infringed on the “musical composition”. So perhaps the dance itself is not copyrighted, but the music, arrangement, and composition certainly seem to be.

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