In 1709 the Statute of Anne created the first purpose-built copyright law. This blog, founded just 300 short and unextended years later, is dedicated to all things copyright, warts and all. To contact the 1709 Blog, email Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Gangnam Style and the culture of free
One of this blog's most read posts is a post by Ben entitled
good read on the culture of 'free'". Despite being repeatedly told
that there is no such thing as a free lunch we all love a good freebie, and the
culture of free is one which is growing. As copyright battles against the
ravages of technology it is interesting to consider the attitude of the South
Korean pop star Psy.
Psy released his Gangnam Style video on
YouTube in July of this year and it is already the most
viewed YouTube video of all time. According to the BBC
the dance has been being performed by a Filipino prison inmates, the prominent
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a Chinese robot.
Gangnam Style won best video at this year's MTV Europe Music Awards, has been
number one in 28 countries and holds the Guinness World Record for the most
"liked" song ever.
In short, Psy has achieved, with Ganham Style, the success that
every pop star dreams of. It is the most liked, the most viewed, the most
purchased video in the world. Most pop stars would seek to fiercely protect
that success, and the accompanying cash, using copyright.
Psy however has a very relaxed attitude to copyright, and famously
his rights to GangnamStlye. This has enabled GangnamStyle parodies to be
created and to spread virally, contributing at least in part to his success.
However this has not prevented Psy from making money from the
song. According to an article by the Associated
one song, 34-year-old Park Jae-sang - better known as PSY - is set to become a
millionaire from YouTube ads and iTunes downloads, underlining a shift in how
money is being made in the music business. An even bigger dollop of cash will
come from TV commercials. From just
those sources, PSY and his camp will rake in at least $8.1 million this year"
The easy conclusion that many have drawn from this is that it is
possible to make money, indeed a lot of money, from music without relying on copyright;
Psy being the perfect example. Indeed TechDirt
has commented that:
yet another great example of how artists can give away copies of their music
and videos to build their reputations and then earn significant sums by selling
associated scarcities -- in this case, appearances in TV commercials. Now, not
every musician may want to take that route, but there are plenty of other ways
of exploiting global successes like Gangnam Style -- none of which requires
copyright to be enforced. "
The Associated Press article goes on to break down how Psy has
made his millions:
TubeMogul, a video ad buying platform, estimates that Psy and his
agent YG Entertainment have raked in about $870,000 as their share of the
revenue from ads that appear with YouTube videos.
Apparently Psy and YG Entertainment also earn money from views of
videos that parody his songs. Google has detected 33,000 videos using Gangnam
Style content. This latter point of course relies on Psy exercising his copyright
in the song in order to extract revenue from parodies, which we are told he
2. Legal downloads and CDs
The Associate Press article indicates that the song sells for
$1.29 on Apple's iTunes Store, from which it extrapolates that Psy (and his
agent, record label etc) could be due more than $2.6 million. The obvious
question here is why Psy is due any money from downloads or CDs of Gangnam Style
if he has chosen not to exercise his copyright in the song.
In South Korea downloads cost much less so Psy is likely to have
made only around $61,000 from downloads in his home country, and he is likely
to have made around $50,000 from sales of CDs in South Korea. Again, this is
cash that must rely on copyright.
The AP article then says: "As for many other parts of Asia,
illegal downloads and pirated CDS are so pervasive that only a small minority
are willing to pay up for the legal versions." Again, if there is no copyright
in the song surely there can be no illegal downloads?
3. TV Adverts
This is where the real money is: the AP article estimates that
Psy's commercial deals amount to around $4.6 million this year (and notes that Psy
is now the face of a new Samsung refrigerator and a major noodle company). This
source of revenue is the one that does not rely on copyright in Gangnam Style
as Psy is trading on his own image.
4. Psy's family
Apparently Psy's father, uncle and grandmother own 30% of DI Corp., a company which
makes equipment that semiconductor companies use to make computer chips.
it or not, in October of this year, when Gangnam Style was number one in more
than 30 countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain,
and the United Kingdom, DI Corps' share price peaked (see the graph to the
right). Although the share price has fallen since then it is still about double
what it was before the release of Gangnam Style. Obviously not all pop stars'
families own public companies so this probably isn't a viable replacement for
Of the above four points, revenue from TV adverts is the only one
which most pop stars could rely on if they were truly not to assert any copyright
in their works. They would be trading on their image and personality rather
than their work. This would bring Psy's estimated earnings down from $8.1
million to $4.6 million.
It seems that by publicising an intent not to enforce copyright in
his song Psy has bought a lot of public goodwill, however allowing parodies is
different to not charging for downloads. Whilst in an ideal world music would
be free and musicians would still earn money, Psy reminds us that there is no
such thing as a free lunch.