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The Fat Jew: Just a Small Part of a Bigger Problem

Someone who calls himself the Fat Jew is probably prepared for his share of ridicule. But even this Instagram celebrity may not be able to handle the heat coming his way in recent days.

The man perhaps known only to his mother as Josh Ostrovsky has been crucified all over social media for not attributing many of the humorous bits in his feed to their original sources, namely other comedians.

What’s prompted the lynch-mob treatment — which seems to be achieving daily regularity on Twitter these days — was the news that the Fat Jew had signed with CAA. He’s already lined up plenty of other deals, including his own line of wine, modeling contract and a book, “Money. Pizza. Respect.” Comedy Central had a script deal with the comedian that never moved to the pilot stage, a decision that was made several months ago.

It’s peculiar enough a sign of the times that someone can build an actual career in the entertainment business just by posting funny images on an Instagram account (5.7 million followers to date). And in comedy circles, where joke-stealing is already a hot-button topic, don’t expect to get anything but roasted if your rise to the top is fueled by other people’s material.

Given the ample evidence to suggest that he is clearly cropping out those who deserve credit or just opting not to track down and offer hat tips for the images he posts, the Fat Jew deserves to get skewered. But like another son of Israel with great influence, the Fat Jew is dying for sins that are not entirely his own.

It feels a bit odd to single out Ostrovsky considering how rampant — even casual — the theft of intellectual property is all over the Internet, and has been that way for quite some time. He seems less some conniving outlier than he is a product of the digital platforms that are practically built to facilitate this kind of infringement.

To wit, it’s no accident that Instagram would emerge as the scene of the crime. This social-media hub simply isn’t conducive to attribution, unless an account personality takes the extra step of actually crediting the content’s original source. Consider how a third-party app like Repost exists, which allows a conscientious Instagram user to pass along a particular image with its original source clearly identified.

Why that isn’t part of Instagram to begin with is perplexing. Contrast that with a platform like Tumblr, which is all about the re-circulation of content without snipping off the original purveyor of that content.

But let’s not pretend Instagram is the only place this happens. Instagram’s big brother, Facebook, is currently being criticized for the prevalence of “freebooting,” which allows publishers to republish videos without the consent of the original author. Snapchat allows users to push images to another, and attribution rarely enters the picture.

Instagram offenders like the Fat Jew have defended themselves by explaining that because intellectual property theft is so commonplace, they aren’t entirely clear just who the original source of a comedic image is, which makes attribution difficult. Lame as the excuse is, there’s a grain of truth there.

With no legal implications for turning a blind eye to the thievery playing out on their platforms, it’s going to take some vigilantism to bring miscreants like the Fat Jew to justice. Why not give him a taste of his own medicine: In the event Ostrovsky manages to create some original content, those offended by his bad practices should get as many people as possible to recirculate that content without attributing to him.

Until then, it’s going to be very interesting to see how CAA handles its newest client (the agency did not respond to requests for comment as to whether the outcry puts this new relationship in jeopardy). The best advice would be for Ostrovsky to acknowledge the problem via social media and make clear he’s going to give credit when due in the future. But if he gets caught stealing again, CAA would probably be doing itself a favor by getting rid of someone who has no talent worth representing.

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