Earlier today, Los Angeles-based writer and comedian Miel Bredouw claims she received a peculiar message from the general counsel of Barstool Sports, a sports and lifestyle website that caters to young men and is widely known for its aggressive and sometimes offensive approach to cultural commentary. The lawyer, named Mark Marin, was offering Bredouw $2,000 to retract a copyright strike she filed on Twitter.
“That’s brand new for me,” Bredouw, whose short-form videos and other work have often gone viral over the years, told The Verge. “And I have had many many interactions with companies stealing my content.”
The kerfuffle is over a 36-second long video clip of Bredouw ruminating on how the jingle for “Carol of the Bells” worked eerily well with the lyrics of the classic Three Six Mafia song “Slob on My Knob,” followed by a brief demonstration. The video, which quickly went viral, has since been re-uploaded by numerous other content farms and social media channels that rip off popular comedians and writers. She initially posted the clip online more than two years ago.
Barstool Sports posted a version of her video in late December, without credit. So Bredouw tried to contact them. “I said, ‘Hey can you credit me,’ and they ignored it,” she says. Shortly thereafter, Bredouw filed the copyright notice. Twitter immediately took the video down, she says, yet over the course of the last three months, her interaction with Barstool Sports, which initially admitted to posting the video without credit, became increasingly absurd. Bredouw describes the experience as being like an “Onion article [but about] something that actually happened.”
Then the full on harassment begins. I didn’t screenshot all the messages before deleting but across my IG, my twitter, my email, my PODCAST’S INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, AND EMAIL they send me these messages. Hundreds. I block them. They find me again. Still, I don’t respond. pic.twitter.com/bpPEtNupBJ
— miel (@miel) March 4, 2019
Bredouw says that numerous members of Barstool Sports offered her increasingly more elaborate and lucrative offers to retract her DMCA claim, starting with an offer to repost the video with credit and then, after no response, a $50 gift card to the company’s online store. In one message, Marin, Barstool’s in-house lawyer, insinuated that the company may have been sent the video with misrepresented origins, a “rare case” that meant Barstool mistakenly thought it had the right to repost it.
At other points in the process, Bredouw says Barstool attempted to contact her on across Twitter, Instagram, email, and even through the Instagram account of her comedy podcast Punch Up the Jam, all in an attempt to get the strike retracted. The offer was allegedly upped to include free exposure for her podcast and $500 cash, and then eventually $2,000 from Marin.
Eventually, when Bredouw refused to respond, Barstool Sports filed its counter-notice, telling Twitter that Bredouw’s copyright strike wasn’t legitimate; that Barstool had “a good faith belief that the material should not have been removed.” And Twitter apparently bought it, according to a message she received from Twitter indicating the video would go back online after 10 days — unless she sought out a lawyer and took Barstool to court.
Twitter’s current policy states that when it receives a counter-notice, the case is no longer in the company’s hands; it’s been elevated to a legal matter that only lawyers and courts are equipped to handle. But Bredouw claims that the status quo effectively allows sites like Barstool to steal her work and bully them into not fighting back. “This is not the first time this has happened to me where a large account has stolen a piece of content and I filed a DMCA and they filed a counter-notice,” Bredouw says. “There’s just this glaring loophole when a counter-DMCA is filed where you have to get a court order.”
Twitter declined to comment for this story, referring The Verge to its public copyright guidelines policy. Twitter’s policy differs from YouTube, which handles copyright strikes with more deference to content owners. But unlike YouTube’s system, which creators say can be overly punitive and sometimes relies on inscrutable algorithms to lodge complaints, Twitter’s appears to be much too lax, letting a company file a counter-notice to lob the ball in someone else’s court and complicate the process.
According to Twitter’s policy guidelines around copyright, it cautions against filing bad-faith counter-notices:
Please think twice before submitting a claim or counter-notice, especially if you are unsure whether you are the actual rights holder or authorized to act on a rights holder’s behalf. There are legal and financial consequences for fraudulent and/or bad faith submissions. Please be sure that you are the actual rights holder, or that you have a good faith belief that the material was removed in error, and that you understand the repercussions of submitting a false claim.
The company’s only course of action to prevent this behavior, however, is the same sort of strike system it uses for other violations. Amass too many strikes — the exact number is unknown — against your account and Twitter may suspend or delete it permanently. “If multiple copyright complaints are received Twitter may lock accounts or take other actions to warn repeat violators,” the policy reads. Neither Barstool Sports nor its general counsel were immediately available for comment.
Bredouw says she has no plans to fight the counter-notice — it’s not worth the trouble. But the telling saga speaks volumes about platforms like Twitter handle copyright claims, especially in a culture where stealing content and profiting off others’ work has become widely accepted practice among social media managers and marketers.
Last month, the creator of the popular Fuckjerry Instagram account, which stole jokes to help build a successful marketing agency called Jerry Media, apologized for ripping off creators without permission and pledged to gain pre-approval for using others’ work in the future. But the conversation around crediting on the internet, where it’s easy to pass off content as your own and build lucrative brands out of it, has been going on for years, with little recourse for those that create tweets, Instagram posts, and videos that end up going viral.
“I think what it really comes down to is support. For reasons I and the rest of the internet don’t seem to understand, Twitter refuses to have human support with major issues on the website like harassment and death threats and suspension of accounts,” Bredouw says, adding that all it would take is one pair of human eyes to see that Barstool’s counter-notice may not be legitimate. “It’s insane to me that the platform is allowing them to do this.”