Catherine Tinker, Contributing Writer
Last semester, I found myself in conversation with a male acquaintance. I could tell he was trying to be funny, but his attempts were falling flat. I thought, “I can be way funnier than this guy.” So I was. It didn’t occur to me until a few hours later that he might have thought I was flirting when I was just trying to indirectly prove that I’m funnier than he is. As a result, I opened my tumblr and made this text post: “every time i say something witty: please don’t think i’m flirting. i just want to establish myself as the funniest one here.”
It blew up. Fast. It’s surpassed 400,000 notes on tumblr. Over spring break a friend alerted me that “parody” Twitter account @girlposts (under the pseudonym Common White Girl) copied and pasted it to their own account, without any attempt made at editing it or crediting me. I reached out to them more than once requesting credit for my material. They never replied. My hands were tied.
Over the summer I learned that Twitter was cracking down on stolen jokes in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects original work posted online. Usually it extends mainly to images and music, but the first reported case of a DMCA-protected tweet had just surfaced, from a writer named Olga Lexell. A joke she had originally posted on twitter had been copied by others, and she filed a copyright claim, insisting that as a writer, her words were her intellectual property.
So I immediately filed a report to protect the most successful joke I’d made to date. That was July 27. I didn’t hear back from Twitter support until August 12, when they told me that they would not be taking action to protect my work.
Why so much fuss over one dumb little post? “Parody” accounts like @girlposts, @Dory, and such aren’t run just by someone bored looking for attention on the internet. Amanda Hess of Slate wrote about how “parody” twitter accounts receive corporate sponsorships and are paid to advertise to their legions of followers. These accounts are making money off of material they did not create.
And it’s not just accounts that hide behind a Cinderella or Fat Amy avatar. Twitter and Instagram personalities like The Fat Jew have received backlash for gaining an agent and Comedy Central contract through posting content they did not create without crediting the source. Comedians Patton Oswalt and Norm Macdonald even took to Twitter to call him out on his theft. Another source, whose name cannot be printed in this newspaper but is owned by a man named Elliot Tebele, was caught using material on Instagram from Emmy-winning SNL writer John Mulaney. But Mulaney has that Emmy award and the co-creation of the Stefon character to make others take him seriously. As a no-name college student trying to make it as a writer, having my biggest success to date snatched out from under me is frustrating.
When @girlposts was temporary shut down on September 2, I thought the witch was finally dead. Instead, it was resurrected after its followers made pleas to Twitter staff that the copyright claims filed against the account were fake. I can’t vouch for anyone else, but I knew for a fact that they had taken my work without permission. So I addressed them, asking what they had to say to those they did plagiarize. In response, they simply blocked me. They blocked me because they knew they had been caught.
A lot of venom was sent my way from people who don’t understand that there is no honor in joke theft. Still, I stand by decision to speak up for myself. It’s easier to simply retweet, reblog, or link to the source of something you found funny than it is to copy & paste or download and re-post something. At the same time, I’m a little flattered at how much that joke has spread, since with everyone else repeating it, I’ve truly established myself as the funniest one here, there, and everywhere. But think of your own jokes, please.