YouTube gives up on original 'Rickroll'

Sometime recently, the Google-owned site pulled one of its most popular music videos over a copyright violation. Why now, when Rickrolling has been annoying us for years already?

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

UPDATE (10:46 a.m. PT): The Rickroll is back. Scroll down for more details.

In what's either the saddest or most fantastic news of the week, the YouTube video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" has been deemed a copyright violation.

Yes, that means the cheesy '80s pop video with tens of millions of views--the center of the "Rickrolling" Internet phenomenon--is no more.

It's not quite clear when it was removed, but the blog Neowin noticed it early Wednesday. "Never Gonna Give You Up" comes from the Astley album "Whenever You Need Somebody," which was released by RCA Records, currently a division of Sony Music Entertainment.

"Unbelievable. The song that put me to sleep every night. What am I supposed to listen to now?" one Neowin commenter lamented. (Sarcastically, I hope.)

The music industry is notoriously complex and bureaucratic, and the copyrights associated with it are often quite arcane, so it also isn't particularly clear as to why the song was pulled now--after being such a high-profile video on the site for years.

But there's already been some controversy over it. Last spring, one of the song's co-authors said he'd barely made a cent off its YouTube notoriety and said that YouTube parent company Google effectively "exploited" him. The industry just hasn't yet figured out how to handle Internet cult fame, as evidenced by Warner Music Group's silencing of a video that superimposed the Web meme "Keyboard Cat" into the video for Daryl Hall and John Oates' "You Make My Dreams."

Then there's OK Go, the pop group whose video for "Here It Goes Again" was one of YouTube's first breakout hits; the band's label, EMI, has disabled video embeds for all its artists. OK Go has made it clear that it's not happy but has acknowledged the label's right to do what it did.

On the flip side, Astley was a more or less forgotten pop star when forum community 4Chan began "Rickrolling" one another; by fall 2008, the pop-culture prank was so mainstream that Cartoon Network enlisted Astley himself to jump out of a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

There are still multiple other copies of the "Never Gonna Give You Up" video on YouTube, so basically you aren't safe yet. And you can, luckily, still watch "Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up," a German DJ's mash-up of "Never Gonna Give You Up" with a song that's just about its polar opposite--Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

It works alarmingly well.

UPDATE: Rejoice! Google says that the Rickroll was flagged mistakenly: "With 20 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, we count on our community members to know our Community Guidelines and to flag content they believe violates them," a statement from the company read. "We review all flagged content quickly, and if we find that a video does violate the guidelines, we remove it, on average in under an hour. We also have a team that is dedicated to identifying and removing spam from YouTube. Occasionally, a video flagged by users or identified by our spam team is mistakenly taken down. When this is brought to our attention, we review the content and take appropriate action, including restoring video or videos that had been removed."

That's pretty plausible. With all the annoyances of the Rickroll prank, I bet more than a few people flag it as spam every day.