In September 2011, SPCA of Wake County volunteers and staff came together to make a fun little lip-dub (lip-syncing to a song and done in one continuous, unedited shot) video about taking a chance on adopting a shelter animal. We used a song called “Take a Chance on Me” from ABBA, a Swedish pop group from the 1970s.
The video was an amazing and inspiring collaboration of the efforts of dozens of people. It was the brainchild of our staff marketing manager Darci VanderSlik. She wanted to create a fun, inspiring video to emphasize what the SPCA of Wake County believes works best for promoting our cause: A belief that happiness and joy will move more people to action than sadness and guilt ever will.
A local production company, the amazing POV Productions, donated their services because they are animal lovers. We created the video for our biggest event of the year -- the annual SPCA Fur Ball -- our high-profile, black-tie charity event. Each year for the event we create an entertaining video to showcase our efforts to event attendees. I then posted it on YouTube so that the 60 volunteers in the video could watch it.
At that point I was not concerned that we did not own the rights to the song. I was not concerned for two reasons: One, we created the video for a one-time showing for a live audience at a private event. The video had fulfilled its purpose and we had done so within the rights to use the song. If we had the foresight to predict what this video would have become of course we would have pursued a legal way to use the song or most likely a different song entirely. And ABBA and the songwriters who own this music certainly have my sincere apology that I chose their song. I don't apologize for playing it at our event, as a child of the 70s, we all danced to it. I do apologize they are not being compensated for the bootlegged copies circulating the internet.Two -- in the past few years, major record companies have begun to view user-created video content not as a threat to their copyrighted work but as the money-making opportunity that it is.
Check out any video set to music on YouTube – in fact you can watch some from the SPCA's Fur Ball 2010 and 2009 -- see those links that pop up for iTunes, Amazon and other digital download sites? User-created content (often silly videos we "regular-joes" make at home with hand-held cameras) became plentiful, free advertisements for songs -- and many record companies take advantage of this. The video itself becomes a nice little piece of free advertising for the song. A tacit quid pro quo. Seeing other user-created content featuring ABBA songs led me to be nonchalant because we were just another "regular joe" making a homespun video that 60 people (and their moms) would watch.
We uploaded the video and something completely unexpected happened.
People shared the video with friends and family and within the span of 6 days, 65,000 people had watched it on YouTube. We began getting emails from all over the United States and from across the world. People emailed us from Chile, from Japan, from Spain, from Bulgaria and more. And they all pretty much said the same exact thing: “Thank you for creating this video -- it moved me, it inspired me, it lifted my spirits, it gave me hope, it made me feel like I’m not alone because I care about animals too."
And then there were the posts and comments that brought us to our knees. Such as, "I am at a low point in my life, and think there is nothing left for me here and then I saw your video. It saved me. It saved me." There were others like this. Personal pain and heartache spilled out in emails and posts shared with us from across the WORLD that this video helped heal their pain because it simply made them happy.
We were enthralled by the video’s reach and growth.
At that point, I got a very cordial email from Sweden, from the original songwriter’s legal team, telling us that the song was being used commercially and would be removed from YouTube. Despite my assurances that the video was not a commercial and was similar to hundreds of other user-created YouTube videos using the same song and we would never air the video on TV, they still maintained it was too commercial. It was too well done not to be.
Inadvertently, we had helped produced a video that was no longer a “regular-joe” video like all our others. It looked high-budget because it was well done by professionals but more than that -- it was done with love. I don’t blame the lawyers in Sweden really. Who could believe that our total budget was only $32? Who could believe that an incredible production company would be so committed to helping animals that they would work for hours and hours without pay? Who could believe that more than 60 volunteers and staff would be so dedicated to helping homeless animals that they would come together and pretend to sing and dance and be silly for the animals? Well, we all can believe this.
But those emails from across the planet, that all said the *exact same thing* were too much to ignore. Those dozen or so raw, hurting, emails that humbled us with gratitude that we could provide a balm to comfort pain and heartache -- those meant something. This was something important. This was something that was so much bigger than one animal shelter in one city.
So I begged the lawyers in Sweden, I pleaded, I promised our video would single-handedly bring Abba back to the US pop charts. I argued that they should consider it educational under fair use guidelines. Finally, I did the unthinkable. I suggested that our cash-strapped non-profit animal shelter would buy the rights to use the song in the video. (I figured at the rate the video was growing we could raise the cash from people willing to keep it going.) I asked them to name their price.
An animal loving music rep in California we reached out to to help negotiate a deal, reported that the songwriters lawyers (not ABBA) actually watched the video, and the answer was still, “no, it’s commercial.” When she asked about the purchase price to use the song -- the answer was "NO."
But like I said, I don’t blame them. After all, homeless pets and animal shelters aren’t everyone's cup of tea and maybe they don’t want their brand associated with homeless animals. In November of 2011, we replaced the video with one with the sound muted and gave instructions on how to download it, purchase your own copy of ABBA’s song and sync it yourself so you can have a copy for your own personal use.
This silly little video that we made with a stolen song changed lives. In fact the video might have actually, literally saved a human life or two. That might be worth stealing a piece of intellectual property for. At least that’s what I'm starting to wonder. There is nothing like being exposed to people's pain and knowing you can help make it better to make you question what you thought was important.
So I provided the tools for the internet to do what the internet does best -- share and spread ideas and information. I wanted hundreds or thousands of people to sync our provided video with their purchased copy of the song. I wanted people to bootleg en mass so the video couldn't be stopped. That didn't happen ... then. Still there have been a dozen or so pirated copies readily available and circulating on YouTube and Vimeo. The quality wasn't as good as the original but that's okay, people were still experiencing the video and over the past year we would receive an occasional effusive email.
Then in January of 2013, it suddenly came back to life. Several of the pirated video copies across YouTube and Vimeo started spiking in views. Celebrities and bloggers tweeted the link, it was embedded in Facebook pages across the world. Over 3.5 million people viewed it in the span of few weeks. The emails started coming in again, in volume. “Great job, loved the video, this made me happy, this made me feel not so alone …"
We have no idea why the video caught on again. What sparked it, why the viral growth now?
Because of the renewed momentum, we have updated this information about the video and we are once again actively reminding people that we unfortunately were not able to obtain the rights to use the song for video sharing but we would still LOVE to try and purchase the rights. A few key word searches through any search engine will reveal copies of the video, that although clearly not as high in quality as the original, are still as entertaining and inspiring as the original.
I celebrate these pirates. I celebrate the internet for doing what it does: share ideas and bring people together for common goals.
As proof, I offer all those emails from across the world that say the exact same thing. There’s got to be something to that, right? And here it is: this same feeling that the video inspires in all of us unites us on common ground. We are all connected by our common response to this video -- joy, hope, a feeling that we are not alone because if a group of people in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA feels this way then there must be others, right? The simple answer is, YES -- you are not alone.
If you saw our video, I hope you enjoyed it and I hope this article answers your many questions. It’s just a simple little video originally meant to be played once. The fact that it went around the world and helped people feel better is quite by accident. I also hope this accidental trip continues.
If you have not seen the video yet, let me take this opportunity to encourage you to download our muted version and if you’re savvy enough you can sync it to your own purchased copy of the ABBA song and have it for your own to enjoy and feel connected to the rest of us who, like you, have the belief that together we can change the world.
SPCA of Wake County
Raleigh, North Carolina
United States of America
A special thanks to Chris Thomsen, Rebecca Lembo and Vanessa Budnick who were lip-dub video section leaders, thank you to Gordon Fedoriw for filming a behind the scenes feature video so we can remember that creating video was as much fun as it ends up looking, and thank you to our incredible volunteers who make all our work possible. Also, thank you to people around the world for emailing us, sharing your vulnerabilities and pain with us as part of telling us how good this video made you feel.
We want you to enjoy this fun lip dub video performed to Abba’s song Take a Chance on Me.
However, you will need to provide your own music to our video. So we’ve got options for you:
1) Embedded in this video is a link that will take you to another YouTube video of the same song in a pop-up window and allow you to sync it up according to the countdown in our video.
(Hint: It may be a good idea to shrink both windows so they're open side by side, and let both videos load completely before syncing.)
2) Purchase a copy of Abba’s Take a Chance on Me and sync it up yourself to this video using our handy countdown timer in the video signaling when to press play.
Click here to play the Abba song with our video. It will "pop-up" in a different window.(Hint: It may be a good idea to shrink both windows so they are open side by side, and let both videos load before syncing.)