Zachary McDowell, Michael Soha
Social Media + Society. January-March 2016, 1-12.
Publication year: 2016

This article analyzes the creation, evolution, and monetization of the Harlem Shake meme on YouTube to explore contemporary implementation of copyright and understanding of authorship in regard to monetization of works with distributed authorship. This article has three main findings: first, we highlight the collection of digital labor that comprises the “Harlem Shake” meme, its rise in popularity, and the subsequent rise in popularity of Baauer, the composer of the song which forms the backbone of the meme; second, we examine how YouTube’s “new bargain” of Content ID, as a departure from the site’s origins creates coercive control mechanisms, shedding new light on the concept of and debate over “digital sharecropping.” Finally, we argue for a “Fair(er) use” system by exploring how memes might be understood outside of the contemporary copyright system, rethinking the rights of users engaged in collective production. The article is significant in that it challenges the current distribution of Content ID payments solely to copyright holders in an attempt to rethink a system that acknowledges the creative labor of memetic phenomena and collective authorship.