I don’t normally post videos with 6.8 million views, but the Chicago band OK Go‘s latest home-made, Rube Goldberg, paint-ball spectacular is irresistible. Plus it comes with a great yarn about the counter-intuitive value of giveaway Internet content, and the pea-sized brains of record company dinosaurs.

Ira Glass, host of the great National Public Radio show This American Life, calls OK Go “living catnip.” They direct their own videos, shoot them on shoe-string budgets, and, in the words of singer Damian Kulash, Jr., “we see them as creative works and not as our record company’s marketing tool.”

In a recent New York Time op-ed piece, Kulash explained how OK Go posted its homemade 2006 video, “Here it goes again,” on YouTube without record company EMI’s knowledge or permission, a technical violation of its recording contract. The video won a Grammy, tens of millions of fans saw it, thousands poured into OK Go’s concerts, and EMI made lots of money.

How did the record company react? By pressuring YouTube to curb the viral spread of its videos. Technically, they did this by blocking embedding. Kulash explains after the jump:

Embedded videos — those hosted by YouTube but streamed on blogs and other Web sites — don’t generate any revenue for record companies, so EMI disabled the embedding feature. Now we can’t post the YouTube versions of our videos on our own site, nor can our fans post them on theirs. If you want to watch them, you have to do so on YouTube.

But this isn’t how the Internet works. Viral content doesn’t spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, Web sites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

The numbers are shocking: When EMI disabled the embedding feature, views of our treadmill video dropped 90 percent, from about 10,000 per day to just over 1,000. Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping $27.77 credit to our account.

Clearly the embedding restriction is bad news for our band, but is it worth it for EMI? The terms of YouTube’s deals with record companies aren’t public, but news reports say that the labels receive $.004 to $.008 per stream, so the most EMI could have grossed for the streams in question is a little over $5,400.

Someone at EMI must read the New York Times, because I was able to embed the new video here. But Kulash’s Times piece is worth reading for insight into the dynamics of Internet content.

Not all record labels react this way. Some 44 million people viewed last year’s wacky YouTube wedding video, JK Wedding Dance Entrance, featuring the Chris Brown song Forever. Brown’s label didn’t insist that YouTube pull the video; they placed an link on the site allowing people to buy the tune on iTunes. Suddenly, as Cory Doctorow explained on Boing-Boing, Suddenly, a year after its original release, Forever rocketed back onto the charts with millions of fresh sales.

Hat tip: SBD.