When James Wright Chanel sang the Patti’s Pies review heard around the world, everyone began asking, rather suggesting, Patti LaBelle break him off a little something something for making her product a success. What no one questioned, though, was why Walmart, the sole carrier of Miss Patti’s Pies didn’t write the viral star a check. The answer is because the corporation doesn’t have too. Chanel is just one of many viral Black stars whose innate humor and innovation has led to insanely popular videos that translated into page views and notoriety for the creator, but serious dollars for the companies that capitalized on their non-trademarked fame.
The Fader took a look into how corporations profit off of viral Black teens, using Kayla Newman as a prime example. You probably know her better as “Peaches Monroee,” the then-16-year-old Vine star who gave us the fabulously overused phrase “on fleek.” Since relaying that she was “Finna get crunk. Eyebrows on fleek. Da fuq,” Newman’s phrase has been used by everyone from causal tweeters to Ariana Grande, Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper and even Ihop, but the 18-year-old hasn’t seen a dime for essentially introducing a new word into the English language in 2013.
“I gave the world a word,” Newman told The Fader. “I can’t explain the feeling. At the moment I haven’t gotten any endorsements or received any payment. I feel that I should be compensated. But I also feel that good things happen to those who wait.”
Newman will be waiting a long time if the current status quo continues to live on. As The Fader pointed out:
Part of the reason the originators of viral content are stripped from their labor is because they don’t technically own their production. Twitter does, Vine does, Snapchat does, and the list goes on. Intangible things like slang and styles of dance are not considered valuable, except when they’re produced by large entities willing and able to invest in trademarking them.
So there you have next level cultural appropriation which allows businesses to replicate and disseminate ideas and movements created by Black social media stars as their own, reap the financial benefits, and never have to give anyone credit. Dana Nelson, founder of D.F. Nelson PLLC, a New York City firm specializing in copyright and music law, told The Fader the law hasn’t caught up with the digital age just yet, which is why so many of these Internet sensations are missing out on tangible dollars. “Copyright law and intellectual property in America does not follow the creative production of artists,” she said. “Rather, it protects the interests of companies. I think it is now harder to distinguish a non-commercial (fair) use from a commercial one.”
And that inability to tell the difference between the two is the reason Black Internet stars remain just that while the pockets of the corporations who replicate their ideas get notably richer.