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'PPAP' singer, other artists embrace fan videos for ad revenue

Comedian Piko-Taro gets ad revenue from fan-made YouTube videos using his original material.

TOKYO -- Unofficial YouTube videos featuring copyrighted works used to cause headaches for content creators, who sought to delete them immediately. But many rights holders have reversed their position, welcoming and monetizing fan-made clips.

A video of a man in a gold animal print outfit singing a bizarre, perplexing song about fruit and pens has gone viral. Since the 68-second clip was posted Aug. 25 on YouTube, the "Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen" video has collected over 80 million views worldwide.

The global sensation has taken aback none other than the performer himself.

"We rented a studio and shot the video with a 100,000 yen ($936) budget, and it has gone around the world. The internet blows me away," an excited Piko-Taro told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Oct. 28.

Piko-Taro is a comedian with a label under Avex Group Holdings. The entertainer and Avex share revenue from ads run with the so-called PPAP video.

YouTube is mum on ad costs. But with the company's cost-per-view bidding system, videos expected to draw more views fetch higher prices. Costs are estimated between 0.025 yen and 1 yen per view, which suggests the PPAP clip has amassed 2 million yen to 80 million yen in ad revenue. Yet Piko-Taro and his label likely have pocketed several times more.

Don't delete it, monetize it

The popular practice of uploading unauthorized, fan-made clips containing copyrighted video and audio material is a major issue with online video sharing. Previously, the only way to fight copyright and related rights infringement was to ask website operators to take down the violating posts.

The battle strategy changed with YouTube's October 2007 rollout of the automated Content ID program, designed to efficiently identify and delete unauthorized clips. The program also serves as a tool for content owners to make money on videos with their copyrighted material, putting ads on them and receiving revenue. Finding that the system works well, companies in the music and video industries and other owners of copyrighted works are flocking to the Content ID system.

Here is how the system works. Rights holders register data involving their copyrighted works in a YouTube system. With video content, a digital fingerprint is created for each frame. Fingerprints also are produced for clips uploaded to the website and compared against the data of copyrighted audio and video materials. When a match is found, the uploaded video is deemed to infringe a copyrighted work of a legitimate rights holder.

When this occurs, copyright owners have three options: block the video outright, track the video's statistics or monetize the video. A content owner choosing monetization gets revenue from ads played before the clip, rather than the uploader receiving any such money. Rights holders who care most about profiting from their works may wish to promote such fan-made videos instead of prohibiting them.

Avex picked the monetization option. More than 70,000 PPAP-related videos are available on YouTube, including those with official collaborations, and together they have been viewed a whopping 500 million times -- more than six times the tally of Piko-Taro's original video. Avex and Piko-Taro get the ad revenue from these views.

The 'healthy' response

The Content ID technology has improved as well, thanks to Google's investment of over $60 million since the company brought YouTube under its wings in 2006. YouTube's digital fingerprinting now works even if a video is distorted, flipped, bordered or processed in any other way. The program can detect copyrighted audio content even if the tempo or key is changed.

Copyrighted content once could be protected only by visual determination and deletion. But the technique has changed dramatically, said Yuhei Mizuno, corporate officer at Google.

More than 8,000 TV stations, film studios, record labels and other businesses globally have registered at least 35 million fingerprints in Content ID, and they are checking more than 400 million videos.

Japanese businesses are no exception. Audio copyright manager NexTone has registered 15,000 music pieces from 20 companies. Anime music is particularly popular, the Tokyo-based company said, citing the large number of user playlists featuring such audio as well as YouTube videos with anime soundtracks.

NexTone recommends Content ID to clients. Some content owners opt to block parts of videos, but most monetize them, the company said. As watching videos on smartphones is becoming mainstream, monetization is "the healthy way" to handle unauthorized use of copyrighted material rather than removing it from the internet, a company officer said.

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