November 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Is The Football Girl Viral Video Stiff-Arming Musicians?

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By now, you have almost certainly seen the above video featuring nine-year-old Sam Gordon’s gridiron heroics. Earlier this week, I must have watched it five times in a row, almost having to fight back a tear of joy while watching this little speed demon shred through the defensive line, break tackles, and score touchdowns. This video is really getting to people — and not just us fathers of daughters. Gordon is now making the talkshow rounds, officially making her a viral-to-mainstream phenomenon.

Update: Copyright holders have blocked the video from YouTube.

Another Update: It’s back with different music.

Without the music in that video — Jane’s Addiction covering The Doors’ “LA Woman” and The Germs’ “Lexicon Devil” (as part of a medley) and the Beastie Boys’ “Soul Fire” (also in a sense a cover) — this video wouldn’t be nearly as effective, and thus not as viral. Her father Brent Gordon, who originally uploaded the video, chose these songs because they are exactly what this video needs. As any Hollywood director knows, pairing the right music with any video makes it way more effective.

Normally, the Beastie Boys, Jane’s Addiction, The Germs, and The Doors could choose to get paid when a video with their music goes viral like this. But that does not appear to be the case here, at this point anyway.

Let’s back up a bit. When you upload a video to YouTube, and it has a song in it that people recognize (i.e. probably one that you didn’t write and record), YouTube used to “have ways of shutting that whole thing down,” in the parlance of our times: It would delete the video or mute the audio.

Thankfully, those dark days are behind us. You can now use most popular music in your YouTube uploads, thanks to Google’s ContentID technology, which figures out what song is playing, and the business deals Google has struck with artists, labels, and publishers that generally make everybody happy:

  • Your video stays online with the music you wanted;
  • The artists, labels and publishers get paid;
  • YouTube gets another piece of attractive content for its ridiculously comprehensive catalog.

Back to the Sam Gordon football video, which currently clocks in at over two million views — a count that will surely climb, now that every newspaper and morning television show seems to have covered it, and also because YouTube play counts always seem to lag by a day or so (Gordon skyped in to morning talkshows today).

Google could not confirm that ContentID had identified the music in the video, and the Beastie Boys’ publicist has yet to respond. However, a source familiar with the inner workings of YouTube ContentID explained that there can in fact be multiple music copyright claims on a single video, depending on the content within it.

So even though the video features two songs, Google ContentID should be able to figure out what they are, and allow rightsholders (The Beastie Boys, The Doors, Jane’s Addiction, and anyone else with an interest in these two songs) to choose to “monetize” the video by adding pre-roll or inline advertising. These copyright claimants (because there are technically four songs in play here) would share the resulting revenue. Brent Gordon would get nothing, unless he were to pull his perfectly-chosen songs, in which case he could monetize subsequent views.

Back when that Susan Boyle video reached nearly 100 million views, I estimated that Sony left $500,000 on the table by not monetizing the video — not exactly chump change. This video could be headed in the same direction. So, who gets paid from all those millions of views of the Sam Gordon football video?

We are still waiting for official word from Google, but from what we can tell so far, and based on the fact that the video has no pre-roll or overlaid advertising, nobody appears to be getting paid for it through ContentID.

We’re not trying to raise a huge red flag here. It’s just that ContentID is really cool, because it frees people up to do something that would otherwise be considered copyright infringement, pays artists, and gives us all something amazing to watch. If it’s not working here yet, we hope it starts working soon, for the sake not only of the four artists mentioned above, but for all the other artists whose music makes already-great videos feel magical.

Update: As mentioned above, copyright holders have now in fact pulled this video from YouTube.

(Updated: This article originally didn’t mention that the Jane’s Addiction medley also includes a cover of The Germs’ “Lexicon Devil”  – thanks to the sharp-eared Adam Powell for the heads-up.)