A nasty habit Barstool Sports has, in addition to all its other nasty habits, is that its employees regularly take internet content—the word “content” sucks but there’s no better description for it—without credit and pass it off as its own. If the owner of that content complains, Barstool won’t address why it didn’t give credit, and will instead shift the subject to some other louder grievance.
In comedian Miel Bredouw’s case, the site tried to wheedle her using a gift card. On Monday, Bredouw explained the bizarre saga, which started back in December, when Barstool reuploaded this video of hers. She asked Barstool for credit, and when she didn’t receive a response, she filed a DMCA takedown notice. According to Bredouw, no one from the site reached out to her until her complaint landed Barstool in some trouble with Twitter.
After Bredouw ignored emails from Barstool’s social media guy Chuck Naso, she said, the site escalated its tactics and deployed in-house lawyer Mark Marin to figure out some kind of agreement. The first offer was... a $50 gift card to Barstool’s store. That’s the art of the deal, right there. Settle for most of the price of a couple of T-shirts too corny for Wildwood.
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Bredouw doesn’t specify when the next part happened, but she said she then received a wave of direct messages from a number of Barstool-owned accounts that read, “See barstool sports DM.” One of the messages in the screenshot was capitalized differently than the others, which suggested that someone was manually sending this sweaty plea from all of these accounts. Bredouw said she received similar requests on her email and Instagram account, as well as through her podcast’s points of contact. The offers kept coming, and increasing, all the way to $2,000. She didn’t take any of them.
As it stands, though, Barstool isn’t in any danger—with Twitter, anyway. Marin, who has since locked his account, wrote a letter to Twitter claiming that the site should be able to use the video because it had done all it could to reach Bredouw and resolve the issue. At that point, Twitter contacted Bredouw to let her know that she had to go to court if she wanted to keep contesting this.
(The DMs sent to Bredouw also revealed that Barstool uses an unlabeled and ostensibly unaffiliated account as a workaround to this situation. The page @haveyouseenadog appears to function as an upload laundering service. It uploads and tweets not just network clips but other kinds of videos with no explanation or credit. Since it’s “not Barstool” uploading the clips, the actual site won’t get in trouble if and when that account gets busted.)
Like Bredouw said, Barstool didn’t really want to pay $2,000 for her video. It wanted to get rid of the penalty that came with using her video without credit. If that strike remained, it could jeopardize a lot more than one tweet. With enough DMCA violations, Barstool’s social media accounts could be suspended or banned for good. As Jon Eiseman, Gizmodo Media Group’s head of social, explained it to me, while an account can technically rack up three strikes, the process unfolds pretty much how Barstool went about it, minus the bribery: If a site contests the claim and the owner of the content doesn’t take it to court within 10 days, the strike vanishes and it’s out of Twitter’s hands.
Let’s use Deadspin as an example. We mostly deal in GIFs and video involving footage from sports leagues or networks, not from individuals, but we still get DMCA notices on occasion. (One time in 2015, the NFL got really mad at us, but the NFL is always mad at us.) What we haven’t done, however, is spam someone with DMs and offer them gift cards and exposure. The NFL wouldn’t want Deadspin gift cards even if they existed. I asked Eiseman whether that was an industry practice to get individuals to drop their DMCA notices; he said it was not.
It is, however, common for large social media accounts or influencers to rip off the work of others with no credit. This habit is different than, for example, embedding tweets. With embeds, it’s still clear who wrote the tweet, and there’s a link to go to the creator’s page. But when an account continuously rips off videos and images without credit, it gives its followers the notion that it is the source for all of it, and as that audience grows, it’s able to profit off of it. Josh Ostrovsky, known as The Fat Jew, caught heat for this a few years ago. A more notorious and recent example is Elliott Tebele, who started the Instagram account FuckJerry and built that into the marketing firm Jerry Media.
Jerry Media had been called out, even by Barstool, for stealing jokes for what feels like forever now, but the criticism actually stuck this time in combination with the company’s involvement in Fyre Fest. In January, Splitsider and Vulture editor Megh Wright sparked a #FuckFuckJerry movement, urging people to abandon every account owned by Jerry Media. (Full disclosure: I think FuckJerry sucks ass and you should unfollow them.) The movement made an actual dent in FuckJerry’s Instagram following and gained enough traction that it prompted Tebele to change the company’s policy on attribution, although the entire operation is still rotten since it was built on the work of others. Last night, Wright pushed for #FuckFuckJerry to begin scrutinizing and unfollowing Barstool, so maybe this sticks to them in ways previous scandals haven’t.
Bredouw didn’t respond to my request for comment, although you can find her talking more about what happened to The Verge’s Nick Statt. Barstool founder Dave Portnoy told Business Insider, “I regret our lawyer offering a 50 dollar gift card to our store not because it’s illegal in any manner but it’s just so moronic and makes us look like assholes. That’s why lawyers should not be on social media.”
Given the way Barstool’s employees went about negotiating with Bredouw and hoping she’d settle for a gift card and a shoutout, it doesn’t seem like an isolated case. It’d be interesting to learn how many college kids have given up their complaints for some Barstool bucks. Has something similar happened to you? Drop a line.
Update (3:27 p.m. ET): Bredouw replied to me with some more info. There was one offer she accidentally skipped over: Last Friday, Naso made an offer of $750 to resolve the claim (his email address has been redacted, but I saw it in the original screenshot).
Bredouw said she is talking to lawyers today, and that a similar situation had actually happened to her once before:
I’ve actually had a fictitious counter claim to my DMCA’s filed before, by Dory. Twitter also didn’t get involved. My content was restored to his page and he blocked me on all accounts so I couldn’t even reflag it. Thankfully he’s since been suspended. Hoping I can at least play a small part in doing the same to Barstool.