Theater Around The Bay: They say that “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal” , but like…don’t actually Steal Stuff, that is Bad

Playwright Peter Hsieh weighs in on content theft and trying to be a good member of the creation community.

I like Jessie Eisenberg. I can’t explain why but I always have. There was an interview he did on a late night show, something like Letterman or maybe Leno, where he talks about his acting debut in a grade school production of Annie/Oliver Twist. He explains that they did half of Annie and half of Oliver Twist in order to avoid paying royalties and goes on about the line changes and random additional characters courtesy of the drama teacher so that all of the kids had parts. The interview was funny, they laughed about it, the audience laughed, I laughed.

I like Jessie Eisenberg.

I like Jessie Eisenberg.

I’m sure Jessie Eisenberg’s school didn’t make a killing off ticket sales, his drama teacher isn’t wasn’t lauded as some sort of visionary who changed the landscape of theatre, and the victims, the creators of Annie and Oliver Twist, will probably be okay. So is this right? No. As much as I’d love to see a Sunday in the park/Grease, this isn’t right and it should not be condoned (however small the damages).

Josh Ostrovsky: Instagram screenshot clown and content thief.

Josh Ostrovsky: Instagram screenshot clown and content thief.

Enter Josh Ostrovsky aka TheFatJewish of Instagram fame who has recently been put on blast for stealing other people’s jokes and passing it off as his own. When I first caught wind of this I didn’t really know who he was and like most people thought ‘what’s the big deal?’ The nature of social media in great part sharing and reposting things, most people do it. So what’s the big deal if somebody gets a few more likes and follows because they’re the Meryl Streep Swag Lord of finding funny stuff on the internet and reposting it? In the case of Ostrovsky ‘a few more likes and follows’ equates to 5.7 million Instagram followers, a book deal, a modeling contract, numerous brand sponsorships , recently a deal with Hollywood mega talent firm, Creative Artists Agency; all this from blatantly ripping off other people’s material and passing it off as his own. His Instagram account is composed almost exclusively of comedic text and memes that he copy, cropped, and pasted from other people’s accounts sans credit or compensation. He is valued at 6000 dollars a post while a majority of the people he steals from don’t get paid for their original material and aren’t represented by CAA.

Original Joke.

Original Joke.

I’m not going to go into detail about what a talentless, unoriginal, piece of filth Ostrovsky is or give examples of his theft because Gawker and Rolling Stone both have really well written articles that do, and you should check it out if you are curious, but what I will say is that there should definitely be repercussions to dissuade others from following suit. According to Splitsider, Comedy Central has canceled a Television deal with Ostrovsky and in my opinion others involved with him should do the same in order to send a message loud and clear that stealing other people’s work is wrong and should not be rewarded.

…and this

…and this

I recently talked with a fellow playwright who mentioned she will never submit her plays to any competition that requires blind submissions, which is the play with the author’s identifying information wiped, because she is afraid someone might steal her play. I’ve been pretty fortuitous as a playwright and sometimes director. I have never had (or at least found of about) my play stolen or performed without my consent and I’ve only had my one of my plays butchered and one production that blew up in my face over the 50+ that I’ve had the pleasure of being part of. Personally, I’m okay with submitting to festivals and competitions that require blind submissions. Most of the submissions I find on the internet through NYCPlaywrights blog and Play Submission Helper and I also make these submissions via the internet. I’ve heard stories from playwrights who have had their plays performed and even published without their consent and of instances where writers, directors, or actors have failed to get credited. It’s tough.

Social Media allows emerging artists a lot of great opportunities, opportunities to share and promote their works to new audiences, to connect and collaborate with other artists; but with great opportunity comes great (or rather vary levels of) peril. The internet is like the Wild West but with a lot more stupid people and pictures of pets and stuff. Even something as trivial as posting funny pictures and jokes has become a topic of controversy. That someone like Ostrovsky is able to parlay his ill-gotten social media fame into a lucrative comedy career while the people he ripped off receive no credit is something to worry about. Concluding my rant, what can we do to be socially responsible artists? I’m going to close with a few of the basics:

1) Be original. Produce awesome, challenging work that you can call your own.
2) Don’t steal other people’s work. Just don’t do it.
3) Don’t be a dick on the internet. It’s not cool.
4) Community. Be part of it. Create it. Having a positive community of artists is invaluable.
5) Give Credit when it’s due. Do it. Just do it.
6) If you run talent firm, don’t represent content thieves.
7) Support your fellow artists. When you see something awesome tell your friends, share via social media, the artist(s) will appreciate it.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, CA. Currently he is drinking coffee and editing a new feature length play.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, CA. Currently he is drinking coffee and editing a new feature length play.

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One comment on “Theater Around The Bay: They say that “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal” , but like…don’t actually Steal Stuff, that is Bad

  1. sftheaterpub says:

    Stuart here. I think it’s important to recognize that there is a nuance to the “Good artists borrow; Great artists steal” slogan that is kind of lost on many people. Borrow and steal aren’t being used in reference to copyright or signed work/content here, but rather in connection to ideas or styles that artists “borrow/steal” from one another and then proceed to comment or expand on, or deconstruct in a way that results in new work that is markedly individual- a unique perspective- if not original (it’s arguably impossible to be truly original since we live in an intertextual society that builds upon itself). What Ostrovsky does is flat out plagiarism, where his taking someone else’s content and reproducing it without alteration, or credit to the originator, and passing it off as his own. That’s a completely different thing from parody, satire, sampling, variation, or any other number of legitimate artistic recreation/revisioning that might or usually does include content by another creator.

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