At TAP, Cord Jefferson makes really good points about the fine line between unintended “virality” and exploitation — a line that gets even finer when you’re talking about laughing at someone else’s distress or anxiety, and when you’re talking about white kids laughing at a black dude or rich kids laughing at Wal-Mart shoppers.
But picking on the Gregory Brothers’ treatment of Antoine Dodson is misleading, since Jefferson doesn’t mention the fact that the Brothers gave half the profits to Dodson — enough to buy him a new house — and, furthermore, that they did it deliberately, hoping to set a precedent. From an interview the Brothers did with Wired:
Wired.com: Do you ever get push back from the people in your videos? I saw a follow-up news story about Antoine Dodson, and he was just completely psyched about becoming this internet star, which could be enough. You guys definitely write the musical composition and create the art, but he wrote some of the lyrics of the song. Are the people in these videos part of the financial picture?
Evan: On the financial angle, Antoine is participating in all of the revenue from the sale of anything we do [with the song], 50-50.
Michael: We’re really breaking “unintentional singing” ground, so we’re trying to set precedents by making it so that Antoine, or whoever that artist might be in the future, has a stake not only as an artist but as a co-author of the song. It’s like you said: He wrote the lyrics, he’s the one who put it out there. What we’re doing on iTunes and on any other sales, we’re splitting the revenue after it gets through Apple down the middle. And that [also applies] if we ever license the song for TV or a movie. Whatever happens to the song, he has a 50 percent writing credit. And we have the same agreement with Paul Vasquez, co-writer of the “Double Rainbow” song.
The attitude of “look, if anyone is going to make money off of this, let’s make sure it’s the guy himself” is an far more conscious way to deal with the problems of “becoming a meme” than just watching the video and passing it on is.