Is “aggregation” just a euphemism for theft?
From his office in the back of a Queens, N.Y., nail salon, Josh Ostrovsky is saying the answer is no. Or maybe that he just doesn’t care — even if comedians are calling for his head.
Josh Ostrovsky is the “The Fat Jew,” the man behind the wildly popular Instagram account @thefatjewish. He spends his days finding other people’s jokes on the Internet and then reposting them on his account, sometimes without giving the creators credit.
Why this matters: Ostrovsky just signed a deal with the same Hollywood talent agency that represents Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg and Miley Cyrus, giving his work more legitimacy than ever before.
The news, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, sparked intense backlash online.
“This man makes nothing, contributes nothing, originates nothing, he is a leech, he is a virus, he is what is wrong with the world. Please please please do not support him,” writer Maura Quint said in a response that started the Twitter rage.
My favorite Jane's Addiction song is "Been Caught Aggregating."
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 15, 2015
— Ken Ziegler (@kenisajerk) August 15, 2015
The announcement of this deal comes after similar moves from Ostrovsky to turn his online persona into a lucrative business that will also make him a recognizable star “IRL” — in real life.
Earlier this month, he signed a modeling contract. He’s sold TV shows to Amazon and Comedy Central (though a rep from the latter confirmed to Splitsider on Monday that “the network no longer has a project in development with him”). In October, Grand Central Publishing will print “Money Pizza Respect,” his collection of essays that “rolls out one ludicrous story after another — from puking on his grandfather after a debaucherous drunken night… to hiring prostitutes for the sole purpose of reenacting scenes from Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart.'”
“Social media platforms come and go,” Ostrovsky told the Financial Times in an interview at a strip club last month. “Look at Facebook, it’s not cool any more. So I’m getting ready for life beyond Instagram.”
“I can still be cool from the mainstream,” he continued. “And if I get rich along the way, I’ll buy a giraffe — and comprehensive dental insurance. That’s the Jew in me.”
The 30-year-old is already getting rich, of course. The Financial Times reported that he charges up to $6,000 for brands like Budweiser and Burger King to flaunt their products to his 5.7 million Instagram followers.
— The Fat Jew (@FATJEW) February 26, 2015
That built-in audience is the obvious reason why corporations are interested in Ostrovsky. But why are talent agencies and TV networks into someone whose fame is based mostly off reposting funny stuff he didn’t make?
Even with a high-powered publicist for a wife, having good taste in humor doesn’t make you humorous. Ostrovsky won’t do stand up, so judging whether he is funny (IRL) might be best done through his YouTube channel of celebrity interviews and stunts like pretending to give a spin class to the homeless.
“I won’t ever open a soup kitchen but what I do is the next best thing,” he told the Financial Times. “A lot of people have steady careers, health insurance, a pay [check] at the end of the month, a wife and three kids. But that kind of life can get boring; sometimes you need to see a fat guy sitting in a giant bowl of [chili].”
All he needs to do is save that fat guy with chili photo and upload it to his account — and include the source of the photo in his caption. Though copyright laws are still catching up to social media innovations, the generally accepted rule is: if you take it, attribute it. Especially for an account like Ostrovsky’s, which regularly garners more than 200,000 likes per photo.
That’s where @thefatjewish’s track record isn’t stellar. A list compiled Saturday showed 50 times Ostrovsky didn’t credit the source of his jokes. Here’s one included from just three weeks ago:
“@nrana777: I can't date you if you get too many likes on Instagram, I don't need that type of stress in my life.” lmao
— Sara Harb (@sara_harb) December 22, 2014
That could be a coincidence, especially when the Internet is full of content that has been reposted over and over. But one recent case of theft was brutally obvious:
Comedian Davon Magwood posted this photo and exact wording (poor punctuation and all) on Twitter. When @thefatjewish posted it, it had no credit. Ostrovsky added it later. He puts his email address at the top of his account, making it possible for people to let him know when a joke needs proper attribution.
In an open letter to @thefatjewish and similar accounts, Magwood summed up why artists deserve to make a fuss when they don’t get credit.
“If it’s my stuff you’re posting, and if you give me credit, then I get traffic to my site,” he said. “You make money from the traffic you generate and guess what, I’d also … like to be paid and credited for the traffic that I’ve generated.”
[This post has been updated.]