Why you'll find few Web clips of Led Zeppelin's reunion

Warner Music and YouTube are doing a pretty good job at keeping cellphone-captured videos offline.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published December 12, 2007 9:49PM (EST)

Led Zeppelin's reunion concert at London's 02 arena Monday night is winning rave reviews. The Wall Street Journal says that Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham -- son of John Bonham, Zeppelin's original drummer, who died in 1980 -- "mixed their brand of rock and metal with an authority that suggested they still might be the best rock band in the world."

Or see this bit from the Washington Post: "By the time they finish their second and third songs -- 'Ramble On' and 'Black Dog' -- it is becoming clear that, even if they are not gods who walk the Earth as men, these are no mere mortals before us. And this is going to be no mere rock show. We are witnessing history."

So you're reading these and kicking yourself for having missed it. After all, this was a one-time deal. Unlike other aging rock bands, Led Zeppelin has no plans to tour. And you just want to know one thing: How awesome did "Stairway to Heaven" sound?

You aren't going to find out on YouTube. The 02 arena holds 20,000 people, and Monday's show was sold out. It's a fair guess that at least a few thousand of these boomers pulled out their phones to record some of the band's big numbers.

And sure enough, there are several entries on YouTube, and a few of the most recently added videos will give you some glimpse of the concert.

But in response to media companies' lawsuits, YouTube has greatly stepped up its efforts to catch copyrighted content, and thus most of the Zeppelin clips lead to a dead end. Click on them and you find the warning in bold letters, "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Warner Music Group."

Why is Warner pulling down these videos? Silicon Alley's Peter Kafka notes that Warner has been among the most Internet-friendly record companies; it even owned an early equity stake in YouTube.

More to the point, what would Warner lose by letting people see the show? Sure, Zeppelin does plan to release a DVD of the concert, but there is no one on the planet who would consider cell-phone captures a substitute for a DVD.

People just want a quick taste of the show now; real fans will surely buy the real concert video later. You might even argue that bootlegs will help DVD sales -- if people see how great the show is now, they'll surely want the genuine article later.

This blog has often chronicled media companies' overreactions to what they call infringing online content. When Viacom pulled down Britney Spears' dreadful VMA performance from YouTube, it was sacrificing potential ad revenue, I argued. The Zeppelin incident suggests even greater, and more short-sighted, overreaction; here they've got not a thing in the world to lose, but still, Warner worries about unauthorized uses.

Instead of pulling down videos, Warner should be adding Zeppelin clips to YouTube -- complete with ads.

I searched many video sites for Zeppelin clips, and came up with only a few that still worked. LiveLeak has several; the clip of "Stairway to Heaven" posted above is from there. But don't count on it to last long.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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