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Why Stealing Jokes on Social Media is a Bigger Deal Than You Think

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Why Stealing Jokes on Social Media is a Bigger Deal Than You Think:

If you follow any funny people on any social media platform, odds are you’ve seen at least a few instances where someone has freaked out over one of their jokes being stolen. Almost every time this happens you’ll see a few responses from random people telling them to calm down or stop making such a big deal out of it. But is their outrage justified?

There are those who will go after a teenager with 11 followers who copied their joke because they thought it was the equivalent of quoting a line from Happy Gilmore. While this kind of thievery is annoying, it’s probably not the best use of your time and will only end with you arguing with tweens for hours. The real issue is with those who profit and monetize other people’s jokes.

It’s interesting that if we were talking about a song, film, speech, or news report it would be obvious why plagiarism is a big deal, but in writing jokes the response is usually met with eye rolls. That’s mainly because there’s a big gray area as to what’s considered stealing. When thousands of people are throwing out a constant stream of jokes, there’s going to be some similarities and overlap. It’s inevitable. Let’s be clear: This isn’t about coincidences or parallel thinking. This is the popular, new trend of taking someone else’s joke, removing their name, and claiming it as your own.

Here’s an example from TheFatJewish, who has launched a career from taking credit for other’s jokes. First the original:

And now TheFatJewish’s “version”:

This baby literally owns IKEA. (Tw: @kevonstage)

A photo posted by thefatjewish (@thefatjewish) on

That’s someone else’s joke on a picture with their name cropped off and the man who profits off the picture gets 190k likes.

Here’s another:

If this freaks you out you are OCD and may need help. (Tw: @princessofwifi)

A photo posted by thefatjewish (@thefatjewish) on

No credit. No source. No nothing.

But what happens when someone calls him out on stealing content? Writer Patrick Walsh saw one of his jokes get stolen and tweeted the evidence:

And what was The Fat Jew’s response?

Obviously Walsh wasn’t pleased with the half-hearted apology:

Simply saying, “Oh sorry I stole your stuff” then continuing to steal it really isn’t correcting your error, it’s just covering your ass. The most unbelievable part is that his defense is he stole it from somewhere else (that he also didn’t credit.) Nowhere on his Instagram does he imply anything other than that he created it. What’s even more aggravating to content creators is that the he didn’t even bother to take it down. So he stole it, didn’t give credit, then when he was called out by the content creator said he apologized and kept reaping the benefits from said stolen content.

That makes sense.

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal, apply this same scenario to an office setting. Your boss asks for ideas on a project and someone writes up a list of ideas. You take that list, erase their name, and send it to your boss. Technically you didn’t say, “I came up with these ideas on my own” but you’re taking someone else’s thoughts and claiming them as your own. Before you so confidently say, “Omg it’s a stupid joke. Who cares?” Consider that, he’s now getting paid $2,500 for product placements in his social media posts. Accounts that he’s built primarily on the content of others. But companies must just not realize what he’s doing, right? Check out this description from Time Magazine, who named him one of the 30 most influential people on the internet:

The raunchy comedian is the Internet’s court jester, posting funny photo memes (many of which he lifts from sites like Reddit and Tumblr) and absurdly posed photos of himself, all to the delight—and sometimes chagrin—of his 3.2 million Instagram followers. Now brands have started to pay for exposure to that audience.

Great. A reputable publication condones and celebrates ripping off other’s content and using it for gain. That’s like listing Bernie Madoff as one of the most trusted businessmen in the world.

This guy is far from the only offender. Others like the popular F**kJerry account do the same thing and, instead of calling them thieves, they’re described as “Instagram aggregators.”

Then there are the Twitter “parody” (nobody knows what that word means anymore) accounts that are the canker sores of social media.

And it’s far from just an isolated incident. Here’s a tweet that the very funny Brian Altano from IGN recently posted:

And here’s the exact same tweet after the “parody” accounts find it:

The same happened to Rachel Page:

Who sent us a screenshot of some of her offenders:

FjhCN65X

Buzzfeed was kind enough to spotlight more plagiarists, oh sorry, “aggregators” in a 2014 interview. The guys behind some of the biggest parody accounts revealed what they do and how they justify it. Here’s one part that should stand out and particularly ridiculous:

“I’m definitely in this for the marketing aspect, and at the end of the day, obviously the revenue,” Orr told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not a writer. I do not write most of my content. I find it [in] other places.”

Obviously, going at content creation with a purely revenue-centric mind-set can be problematic. Orr, Rhodes, Asa, and the parody account owners like them all face a tremendous amount of criticism for plagiarism. Orr said rampant plagiarism on Twitter is Twitter’s problem, not the people who use it.

“Unfortunately Twitter limits us. I don’t think in 140 characters we can add a source,” Orr said. “Should Twitter allow for a place to link for a source, I’m sure everyone would be definitely open to that and do it.”

Well actually there is a way to credit someone for their joke and that’s by simply retweeting them. Shocking discovery, right? Also how laughably smug is it to openly plagiarize and put the fault on the platform and not on your terrible self? “Sure I keep robbing people in the Wal-Mart parking lot, but that’s the shoppers’ faults because Wal-Mart’s hasn’t installing better security cameras.” Before you say it’s only Twitter, here’s a couple more quotes from their interview about what they’re making from the lifted content:

Rhodes told BuzzFeed News that someone running parody accounts could easily make six figures a year. He was able to start monetizing his parody Twitter accounts in 2012 and quit his job shortly after; his Twitter network is a full-time gig.

“Lately I’ve been posting for different apps, and it can range from anywhere from $500 - $1,000 per post — it’s awesome,” Asa said. “I actually did an app tweet last week and I ended up getting the app 20,000 downloads off one tweet.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer using social media as a notepad for jokes you’re working on or a receptionist at a dental office that uses it every six months as a comedic outlet; taking someone else’s words with no credit given is wrong, but profiting off of it seems criminal.

Another fun game is to search for a popular tweet on Twitter and see how many times it’s been stolen. Spoiler: thousands and thousands of times:

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 3.28.59 PM

Some will look at that and say, “Well that’s what happens when you post a joke or anything else online.” And my response? Exactly. That’s why something needs to be done about it. No issues ever get resolved by realizing there’s a problem, shrugging your shoulders, and walking away.

There are always going to be people trying to make money by replacing talent with exploits, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate it. How upsetting is it when you tell a joke quietly in a group of friends, then someone else says it louder and gets a huge laugh? Now imagine your friend following you every day listening for more jokes because people started throwing money at him every time he repeated what you said. Also, that friend quit his job because he made enough to live comfortably by telling your jokes louder than you can. Odds are, you’d quickly decide to find new friends.

Instead of hoisting these dubious friends on our shoulders and telling everyone how much they make us laugh, isn’t it about time we call them out for the joke thieves they truly are?


Rob is a writer and comedian based in Louisville, KY. Follow @robfee on Twitter.

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