YouTube pulls original "Rickroll" video after 30 million views (Updated)

Update: According to NeoWin, YouTube says that the video removal was a mistake. The video is now back online, and another Internet pillar lives on. Find the original story below.

Is nothing sacred?! On Wednesday night, YouTube finally pulled down the original “Rickroll” video, which featured ’80s pop icon Rick Astley singing the now infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up.” If you try to visit the video now, you’ll be confronted with a message that it has been removed for “terms of use violation.”

YouTube hasn’t commented on the change yet, but an Ars Technica commenter points out that it was likely done to push viewers to the Vevo version of the video. Vevo is a joint project by Sony, Universal, and EMI meant to provide a Hulu-like experience for music videos. The Vevo version of the video already has over 22 million viewers, and I suspect that Sony BMG is going to catch a lot of flack for killing an internet treasure in favor of its own version.

The rickrolling meme started in 2007 at 4chan, and the original video went on to clock over 30 million views. Rickrolling — a process that involves tricking someone into watching or hearing Astley’s most famous song — was one of those rare internet memes that also spread to life outside the web. Wikipedia lists some of the most famous examples, but a quick search on YouTube will bring up countless others.

We don’t know how much Astley made directly from the video, but as of April 2009, the song’s co-writer Pete Waterman reportedly earned only about $16 from the video after 150 million views. Astley probably made quite a bit more, but I would argue that direct revenue is probably the least significant aspect of the video. The fact that it made Astley a household name once again, raised awareness of the former pop idol to a younger crowd, and likely generated more interest in his work, is more important. It demonstrated that a simple web meme can have more impact than any forced marketing campaign.

[Image via Flickr user chinnian]

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