Rebecca Black is getting her 16th minute of fame thanks to news that her “Friday” video has been pulled off of YouTube by her lawyers.
The singer enjoyed tremendous viral success in March with a song, “Friday,” so silly and simple (Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend), it became irresistable fodder for every last amateur comedian on Twitter and Facebook. Naturally, the song charted as a Top 100 single throughout the English-speaking world, and then jumped the shark when it was performed on “Glee.”
Black’s “Friday” then started its descent into one day becoming the answer to a question in a future version of Trivial Pursuit, but now has gotten a momentary reprieve from pop-cultural obscurity thanks to a take-down notice. Is Black a greedy musician not properly thanking the Right Said Fred Luck Dragon by messing with all those YouTube users who wish to pay $2.99 to “rent” the video of her song?
Unlike 99.9% of takedown notices submitted to YouTube, this isn’t a garden-variety response to a user uploading unauthorized copyrighted material. Rather, the dispute over Black’s “Friday” has been going on for months and is more about the contracts that young musicians sign before they hit it big.
In Black’s case, she seems to have created a vanity recording by making a deal with Ark Music Records to use its studio to record her song. After the song hit it big, Ark Music wanted to capitalize. And that’s when it starts to get interesting.
In March, Black’s lawyers sent a letter to Ark Music, accusing the company of copyright infringement and unlawful exploitation of her publicity rights. Specifically, Black says she never got the master recordings allegedly due to her by contract and that Ark hadn’t attained the necessary rights to advertise her as an exclusive Ark recording artist and commercially exploit the song in derivatives like ringtones.
Most bona fide record labels would have taken care of such matters rather easily. So many musicians are trying to break into the record business these days, it’s not hard for them to press so-called “360 deals” on wannabe American Idols. Record labels will typically not only take a cut of record royalties, but merchandising, concerts, and other earnings as well.
But if Ark was really more like a recording studio for hire rather than a recording label, it likely gave little thought to how it would support Black’s career through publicity and marketing expenditures. Instead, Ark took a few hundred dollars from Black’s mother to let the 13-year-old record a song, probably without the slightest expectation of any further reward.
Now that the song has hit it big, the equation has obviously changed, and the parties are fussing over who owns which rights, which will help determine the slicing of the royalty pie. If the parties don’t come to an agreement, only a court’s inspection of the contract will settle the matter.
Many people might fault Black for using “publicity rights” — the quickly burgeoning realm of IP law — to gain leverage over Ark. But all those bemoaning or making fun of the news that “Friday” has been pulled from YouTube in its 16th minute of fame should be mindful of the fact that we’re dealing with a 13-year-old here, who while suddenly famous and potentially rich, has lost some control over her life and her hit song. As Black herself tweeted, it wasn’t she that decided the song would be rented for $2.99. That was out of her hands.