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.
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.
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