A rock band splitting from its record label is hardly earth-shattering news, but the reasons behind LA-based band OK Go and EMI parting company do raise some tricky issues concerning copyright, whether the creator of material has the final say over its use, and how the Internet continues to muddy the waters.
OK Go and EMI called it quits not long after band member Damian Kulash wrote an article in the New York Times, outlining his concerns about EMI, with YouTube’s cooperation, restricting access to the band’s videos.
OK Go makes its own low-budget videos, and gained a lot of attention back in 2006 when it posted one of its clips, ‘Here It Goes Again’, on YouTube. The video was a huge success, OK Go toured to packed houses, and sold lots of records for EMI. All fine, you might think, but EMI wasn’t entirely happy because OK Go had posted the video on YouTube without its permission. Kulash concedes this was a breach of contract, but he argues that EMI got loads of free publicity, since it didn’t pay for the video to be shot, and reaped the rewards later in record sales.
But EMI didn’t let the matter rest. Part of the reason for the success of ‘Here It Goes Again’ was that it could be embedded in other Web sites, thus attracting more viewers. EMI blocked the embedding of subsequent OK Go videos, meaning they couldn’t be viewed anywhere but on YouTube. OK Go couldn’t even put them on its own Web site.
As Kulash explained, it’s all about money. Record companies pressured YouTube a few years ago to pay them a small royalty each time one of their videos is viewed there. But that money is paid only if the video is viewed on YouTube. Videos embedded elsewhere don’t generate revenue.
As far as OK Go was concerned, the move was a disaster. Kulash says views of the ‘Here It Goes Again’ video dropped 90% and the royalty stream to the band became a trickle. EMI, says Kulash, effectively shot itself in the foot.
“It’s decisions like these that have earned record companies a reputation for being greedy and short-sighted,” he wrote. “Curbing the viral spread of videos isn’t benefiting the company’s bottom line, or the music it’s there to support.”
OK Go has now set up its own company, and its Web site (www.okgo.net) features all its material, including videos.