It's been two years since Vine made recording bite-sized videos the best thing since tweeting. It's held its own against some pretty lame competition so far (while making a lot of people rich), but one of the latest mini-video apps to hit the App Store might be the most successful since Vine's launch. That's if people overseas have anything to say about it—and if they get some leverage with the help Rihanna just gave them.
The app, Dubsmash, lets users record video selfies for a few seconds while lip-syncing to audio clips stored in its library. These could be anything from quick clips from songs, movies, or any other quotes you can think of recording.
The end product looks something like this:
A video posted by Adam Levine (@adamlevine) on Jan 15, 2015 at 10:18am PST
Yep, that's Adam Levine lip-syncing to Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction. That's all there is to it. It's simple enough, but while dubbing has been the main way Dubsmash has been used since its inception, Rihanna changed gears a bit and made her new single, "Bitch Better Have My Money," available for a 10 second preview through the app this morning.
Ten whole seconds. Stop the presses, right? If you're wondering, it's only bits of the song's intro and outro. But wait, while it might not seem like a big deal at first—I mean, what are you going to do with a fraction of a complete song?—considering that Dubsmash uses clips from music and movies without permission, and the concern that the company might get sued down the line, this shows that the entertainment industry might have found a way to use it to their advantage.
While Dubsmash doesn't have the popularity of other video apps, its number of users is quite large. Its been downloaded more than 10 million times since it launched on Nov. 4 for Android and iOS. The app's founders are German, so it hit there first, and then rose to the top of the App Store in its first week. It's now up and running in 29 other countries. (Rihanna and Levine's shout outs definitely gave the app some shine here in the States—Levine has 2.2 million followers on Instagram, and Rihanna has 42 million followers on Twitter, so bet that the app got a few thousand new users today.)
If all else, Rihanna's 10 second preview of a song will get people talking more than not having anything. But, for people who don't have the app already, it might not be such an easy sell:
@rihanna nah bruh— DONALDXDONNIE (@VvsDonnie) March 26, 2015
You still might be wondering—O.K., so I can record myself on Dubsmash, so is it a social network like Facebook? Not really, it's more of a video messaging tool, so in that way, it doesn't compete directly with Vine, Instagram, or the other networks you're used to. The app doesn't have a timeline or news feed, so users either send their videos to people using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and their standard messaging app, or save it to their phone. From there, though, they can upload it to social networks—and thousands of people already are. Just on Instagram, close to 400,000 videos have been uploaded to #DUBSMASH, and many others are under hashtags marked by their countries, like #DubsmashEgypt or #DubsmashGermany.
Like what's happened with popular Vines, people are compiling Dubsmash clips into YouTube videos:
Yet, if you try to go on Instagram or YouTube to look for dubs or clips of "Bitch Better Have My Money," they've been quickly taken down—so it looks like they're trying to keep it exclusive to the app for the time being. The reason that Rihanna embracing the app is such a big deal for Dubsmash is because of copyright concerns. A majority of the audio on the app is from music, television, and film—and the founders are facing criticism that they might have set themselves up (and users who upload their clips to the Internet) to get sued by almost every studio in Hollywood.
The reason that Rihanna embracing the app is such a big deal for Dubsmash is because of copyright Concerns.
Dr. Dariush Adli of Adli Law Group, PC, which specializes in Intellectual Property Law, told Complex that because the audio clips are so small, "fair use" might weigh in Dubsmash's favor should they go toe-to-toe with companies. "One factor is whether the work is used intact or transformed," Adli says. "In this case, the app does not use entire works, but combination of snippets. This is much more likely to be considered fair use than using a copyrighted work in its entirety. Regarding the factor of potential market effect, it seems to me that this app will not interfere and may even promote the underlying works on which it is based."
"The portions [of content] used by the app appear to be small, so this factor would weigh in favor of a finding of fair use," he continued.
Dubsmash co-founder Roland Grenke says that he hopes brands will think of the app as a way to make cash when they introduce ways to monetize. If there are complaints, he says they'll remove clips that are flagged for copyright. The app already has more than 30 audio categories, like "Pick Up Lines" with classics like "Can I have yo numba?"; loads of asinine George W. Bush quotes in "Politicians"; and clips from viral videos like "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife" under "Internet Hits."
Check out my attempt at a Friends dub—now complete with a Dubsmash watermark—that I uploaded to Vine:
Grenke and the other co-founders, Jonas Drüppel and Daniel Taschik, met at a 2012 hackathon in Berlin, and developed two apps that flopped before they came up with Dubsmash. Since the app is picking up steam, they're not waiting to add new features. “[The first] big new features will include improvements for sound discovery," Grenke told TechCrunch. "The next update will include what we call ‘Soundboards’. This is a better way to organize sounds, and allows users to create their own boards and to subscribe to other users’ boards. This will help to make the displayed content way more relevant and personal to each individual user.”
Yet it's not really about the videos themselves, but rather the context that they're used in.
What interests me the most about the app (outside of the people who film themselves so often they can fill minutes of video) is that it's not a social network, at least in the traditional sense. Snapchat initially got popular because it provided an easy way to share content in a (seemingly) private way. Dubsmash isn't meant to be private since you're supposed to message friends on your own, but it doesn't broadcast all of your content by default. The app is social in a different way: the community provides the audio to use on your own. That doesn't mean full-on social features won't be in its future, though.
I can't really tell you why Dubsmash is blowing up, other than that people seem to dig its simplicity. There's also something funny about hearing familiar quotes in unfamiliar places with new faces. Yet it's not really about the videos themselves, but rather the context that they're used in. Kind of like how a GIF or meme won't make any sense if they're used in the wrong situation, but when they're used right, they're gold.
Or, maybe, Dubsmash is popular because it appeals to us in the same way emojis do: it lets us say what we want without really saying it.
Jason Duaine Hahn is a Complex Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter here.