Last year, we noted that one of the reasons why Psy’s Gangnam Style video and song had become so incredibly popular was Psy’s decision not to crack down on copies at all. Instead, he’s mostly celebrated the copycats and parodies, talking about how awesome they were. But, of course, once a major record label gets involved… TorrentFreak reports that Universal Music is demanding $42,000 from four mayors in Denmark who teamed up to produced a video of the four of them dancing to the song.
The mayors have said that the use is clearly parody and covered as fair use, but Universal Music argues that because they’re elected officials and there’s an election coming up, they have to pay. I don’t see how that makes a difference at all. Even more bizarre is that Universal’s calculation seems to be that they should pay four times the “normal” license of $10,500 because there’s four of them. But, as the mayors point out, they just used the song once, as it’s all four of them appearing in a single video. And, making matters even more ridiculous, is that Universal gave them until today to pay up… or they claim that it will be “a real action for infringement… so the amount will be completely different.”
Sometimes I wonder if Universal Music and the major record labels have just given up, and now are actively trying to make themselves look as ridiculous and out of touch as possible. In the meantime, the mayors have replaced the video with another one using… um… some sort of salsa music, which just comes across as somewhat creepy and weird.
Weeks ago, Mike explored the cultural blitz surrounding the song/video Gangam Style and its creator, Korean pop sensation Psy. One of the themes of the article was how Psy's seeming permisiveness for the internet community's repurposing of his song to spread the fun around resulted in something of a turbo-charge effect on its popularity. It turns out that this understanding of how digital culture can help spread an artist's popularity wasn't a one time thing for Psy.
Recently, a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles closed up shop for a few weeks as it changed its name to Gangnam Style, without even attempting to get Psy's permission, obviously looking to build their business on the song's popularity. While one might cringe at the expected legal result of the use of the song's title, you can safely un-cringe; Psy not only isn't going after the owners of the restaurant, he loves what they did.
“Gangnam Style” singer Psy will NOT sue an L.A. restaurant for naming itself after the famous song — in fact, Psy's pumped … because as far as he's concerned … imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The restaurant never bothered to get Psy's permission to use the name — but sources close to the singer tell TMZ, he doesn't give a crap … because where he comes from, imitation is a form of honor.
The larger point being that there's no harm from the restaurant's move and the possibility for further cultural penetration. While I appreciate Psy's inaction legally, I would actually suggest he go a step further and embrace the restaurant by reaching out and working directly with them. Why not have his music playing there? Why not have CDs or merchandise available for purchase, with some kind of agreement worked out with the restaurant? Not obstructing is wonderful, but I would suggest more collaboration by the artists to further their monetization and success. Why the hell not?
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.