SXSWorld November 2015


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1 6 S X S W o r l d | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M osh Ostrovsky's career has had a curious trajectory. His Instagram account, which delivers visual jokes, funny images and screenshots of one-liners to 6.25 million followers, has made him a bonafide online celebrity and led to big oppor- tunities. Ostrovsky, who goes by the handle "The Fat Jew" online, was offered a pilot by Comedy Central and signed with the major Holly wood agency CA A in August. His brand sponsorship on Instagram was worth a reported $6,000 per post, and he landed a hosting gig with Beats 1, plus a book deal. He has also been the target of vitriol from the biggest stars in his field—Patton Oswalt, Michael Ian Black, Norm Macdonald, Chelsea Peretti and Kumail Nanjiani among them—and for good reason: Many of the jokes that have made him a star have often been lifted directly, even maliciously, from the social media accounts of other comedians. Ostrovsky would take photos or jokes, repost them without attribution and—his critics say—crop out identifying infor- mation such as Twitter handles. When the CA A deal was announced, the existing backlash reached a fever pitch. Soon, Comedy Central announced that Ostrovsky's pilot was dead, and Seamless, an NYC-based food delivery service that used him in their marketing, had dropped its deal with him as well. The idea that intellectual property—in this case, jokes—might not be safe on the Internet isn't new. But in the past, the fear was that someone would take a song, movie or TV show and share it for free. "Theft," in that context, meant distributing material without the rights to it. But the controversy Fat Jew ignited is one that inde- pendent creators have worried about for some time: Intellectual property theft on the Internet could also mean stealing credit for making the thing in the first place. No one knows that better than comedian Josh Androsky. The Fat Jew's social media accounts stole from a lot of people, but Androsky felt it quite personally. "Fuck that guy forever," he says when Ostrovsky's name is mentioned. "For having a name that is, like, two letters away from my name, and for stealing my aesthetic, and for being paid a bunch of money. He stole so much more from me than he did from anybody else. When he signed with CA A, I got three texts congratulating me, and only one of them was a joke. Now I have this fear that the next time I want to set up a meeting with someone, because of this hack, they won't take a meeting with me because they'll think that I'm him." Ire aside, Androsky sees a serious difference between how intel- lectual property in comedy is regarded, versus the sort of piracy that the music and film industries have dealt with. "At least before, when people would download something, they were aware that the Pirate Bay didn't actually make Scrubs," he says. "There was no worry that you wouldn't at the very least be credited." Androsky is a truly funny guy, which means that he'll likely be okay. But there's a bigger question to consider: What does it do for creativity if the rewards —not just financial incentives, but even the credit for making people laugh—can be stolen by anybody who can crop a screenshot, or use copy/paste keys? The fact that there's actual money involved in what the Fat Jew social media accounts did is what makes credit-stealing so insidious. Not only did the people who came up with the jokes not get credit for them, but he got endorsement deals out of his Instagram and Twitter accounts. "The way that people make money on social media is such a joke, it makes derivatives-swapping seem super legit," Androsky says. "There will always be people who get money from capitalizing on wanting to be famous, while people don't care if I'm working a day job in Burbank and trying to pay my bills. Really, what needs to happen is the audience needs to be more responsible, and more curious about who is making them laugh." The music industry learned the hard way that "make the consumer care about the person responsible for the thing you're enjoying" is a tall order. But that industry managed to reduce piracy figures, and Panos Panay, managing director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, says that what Androsky pines for is part of how it happened. "People care if there's an accompanying educational campaign around it," Panay says. "You need a public education campaign that's not meant to be pedantic, but that's more about generating aware- ness, like in the food industry. I don't think fifteen years ago, people cared about where their coffee was sourced. But today, people are saying 'I do care if the person on the other end who made this was treated fairly.' I don't think that the public doesn't care—it's that the public doesn't know." At the very least, people who follow the Fat Jew social media accounts can instead follow Androsky and other comics, as long as they know that those people exist. Which means that, if comedy wants to assert that ownership matters, the movement probably needs to come from within the medium. T Informed Consumers May Be Key to Intellectual Property Protection by Dan Solomon J J os h A n d ros k y

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