Why your Pizza Rat GIFs are Disappearing off Social Media

Why your Pizza Rat GIFs are Disappearing off Social Media

These deals protect the interests of people like Little, who accidentally stumbled onto something - in his case, a pizza-loving rat - that has substantial viral currency. Image courtesy: YouTube/Matt Little

When Matt Little filmed a New York rat hefting a slice of New York pizza down the grimy stairs of a New York subway, he waited 12 long hours before putting the video on Instagram. It didn't take nearly that long for it to go viral.

The YouTube version of the short clip - it's 14 seconds - now has more than 7 million views. And at the bottom of Little's description on that video is a reminder that no matter how many Halloween costumes or gifs the determined rat may inspire, Pizza Rat is not a communal treasure: "Jukin Media Verified (Original) * For licensing/permission to use: Contact - licensing(at)jukinmediadotcom."

Jukin Media found Pizza Rat at about 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 21, about an hour and a half after the video appeared online. Jukin Media has a couple of different branches of its business, but is best known for quickly buying the rights to potentially viral videos and then licensing them out for a fee. Jukin's deals vary from creator to creator: Sometimes they're paying a few hundred bucks to buy a video outright, and sometimes it negotiates revenue splits - Little has indicated his deal falls into the latter category.

Once the deal is made, whatever that deal is, Jukin's employees find ways to monetize that content - and to protect it with DMCA takedown notices thrown at anyone who might have uploaded the video to YouTube on their own, without permission. (If you're interested, DigiDay has a good read on Jukin and its business model).

As Pizza Rat demonstrated, Jukin's copyright claims are very thorough.

Although The Washington Post has a licensed video of Pizza Rat, a gif we used to illustrate a story on the subject has since disappeared.

These deals protect the interests of people like Little, who accidentally stumbled onto something - in his case, a pizza-loving rat - that has substantial viral currency.

"The video has obviously struck a chord and kind of taken on a life of its own," Mike Skogmo, a spokesman for Jukin, told WIRED in an interview last month. "But at the same time, that doesn't change the fact that there's an owner who's entitled to benefit from the video, and control the fate of the video somehow."

The extent to which Jukin is allowed to control how its videos are used, and by whom, has been under legal scrutiny recently, thanks to a lawsuit filed against Jukin by another YouTube inhabitant: a company called Equals Three that takes viral clips and uses them to make humorous videos of its own, which it then monetizes.

Last week, a federal court ruled against Jukin in that case. Equals Three took Jukin to court over the latter's DMCA claims against their videos. Jukin believed that Equals Three's videos were stealing material from one of its YouTube channels; but Equals Three believed the material was fair use.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson found that all but one video - the exception being Equals Three's video "Sheep to Balls" - constituted fair use, according to an Oct. 13 order on the matter. It's a case that, Wilson wrote, required him to "make distinctions along the fuzzy boundaries between commenting on humorous videos in a transformative manner and simply exploiting them for their inherent humor without paying the customary price."

Equals Three's videos round up and comment on the exact same sort of content that Jukin Media seeks to buy - short, often accidentals viral clips that are funny, cute or sharable for some other emotional reason. In several cases, Equals Three used videos owned by Jukin to make their own content. Equal's videos show short clips from these viral moments, often with commentary over them. Each video from Equals channels tends to feature multiple clips. That, Wilson found, was enough to transform the essential character of the work.

Wilson gave the example of one Equals Three video, called "Drunk Babies," which used part of a Jukin licensed video called "Groom Drops Bride."

"Drunk Babies shows Jukin's video of the groom running while carrying his (presumed) bride, tripping, and falling on her," Wilson wrote, noting that the Equals video shows the clip "multiple times," with "different graphics and commentary." He added: "The host makes such comments as "he literally body-slammed his new bride" and describes the incident as an example of why you shouldn't wait to have sex until marriage because you get "way too excited."

"In plain terms, whether or not Equals Three's episodes criticize Jukin's videos, the events depicted in Jukin's videos are the butt of Equals Three's jokes," the order continues. "Thus, the jokes, narration, graphics, editing, and other elements that Equals Three adds to Jukin's videos add something new to Jukin's videos with a different purpose or character."

In all but one example, Wilson concluded that the commercial nature of Equals Three's use - like Jukin, Equals was displaying ads on their YouTube videos - "is outweighed by the episode's transformativeness."

One thing's clear, though: It will take the Internet lifespan of quite a few viral clips before this issue is settled for good.

© 2015 The Washington Post

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