That couple's wedding march video, better known as the JK Wedding Entrance Dance, has currently gained close to 27 million YouTube views. It provides a great story of Google's role in taming online piracy, and it offers some wonderful insights into why Google and the content companies -- from Hollywood to book publishers to news agencies -- may finally learn to get along.
The wedding dance clip features the Peterson-Heinz wedding party dancing to the altar to Chris Brown's pop tune "Forever." "Forever" is produced by Sony label Jive Records, and I'd say it's safe to assume that no one asked permission from Jive or from Sony before performing the dance and uploading the clip. As Miguel Helft reports in last week's New York Times, YouTube itself estimates that fully "a third of the video streams on which the company displays advertising" contains "pirated" content (note: "piracy" is a loaded word but by that I mean content such as the Wedding Dance, whose creators did secure synchronization rights in advance).
In that same article, Helft goes on to discuss the impact of YouTube's Content ID, a program YouTube launched two years ago this Thursday. (Last week, Google established partnerships to enhance Content ID further.) Content ID lets content owners identify their songs and videos when they appear on YouTube; the content owners can either trigger YouTube to pull the pirated clips altogether, or they can claim their pirated content and share revenue with YouTube on ads that are run against such clips. In other words, Content ID gives copyright owners a choice of treating pirated content as stolen intellectual property, or as free viral advertising which can be monetized.
Sony's Jive label chose the latter option. In Helft's words, the JK Wedding Entrance "video...now sports ads on its side and links to Amazon and iTunes where users can download 'Forever.' The song briefly climbed to the No. 3 and No. 4 most popular song on those two sites and the official 'Forever' music video also had a spike in downloads."
Indeed, we're seeing an increasing number of content providers looking for ways to partner with Google on deals that will make their content ubiquitous; in other words, driving advertising and splitting ad revenue with Google, rather than pushing the company away. Content ID is one example; Google's Fast Flip news feature, in which Google offers readers access to news providers' pages, is another.
That's a fundamental change to a content business model historically centered on the idea of controlled access. You can't enter a movie screening without first buying a ticket, you can't take a book out of a bookstore without buying it first, and you can't syndicate a TV show without paying for the program. A content partnership with Google -- an organization whose stated mission includes making information "universally accessible and useful" -- is a radical shift, to say the least.
But increasingly, Google and the content providers have realized that it's in both of their interests to work together. On Google's part, this isn't just an issue of concern over content-industry backlash (like Viacom's $1 billion intellectual property lawsuit leveled against YouTube, filed in 2007). Google has a long-term issue here as well: the company must know that, if it wants to provide the best content to its users, the easiest course is to work with the businesses that produce the content Google users want to find.
Meanwhile, content providers understand that they need Google to drive traffic to them; they also understand that some degree of piracy is inevitable in the Internet age -- and the best they can do is to monetize it as much as they can. Both sides of this story realize that they need each other. Kudos to Google for taking the lead -- and offering an olive branch -- with the technology to bring both sides into the equation. And kudos to Google's content partners for their enormous foresight and flexibility to change very old and entrenched traditions in the name of embracing the future.
Sure, the truce I'm describing here is a far cry from a true love story like that of J and K. It's much closer to a marriage of necessity -- a marriage which, as Rupert Murdoch and other news industry leaders will tell you, not everyone in the family will always approve. But, as this summer's Sony-YouTube movie distribution discussions show, sometimes even marriages of necessity can lead to genuine, enduring friendships.