On Monday, writer and performer Miel Bredouw took to Twitter to disclose publicly how her content had been misappropriated by Barstool Sports, the increasingly popular but highly polarizing sports media and lifestyle brand, and detailed the company’s subsequent treatment of her. Her story quickly went viral, prompting a public acknowledgement by Barstool founder and “El Presidente” Dave Portnoy that the company’s response was “moronic.” Bredouw was then subject to a campaign of harassment. Content theft has become a hot topic of late, thanks to Fuck Jerry and the online efforts to boycott it. The sports site Deadspin beseeched everyone (including Fast Company) to “Stop Enabling Barstool’s Shit.” Having recognized Barstool as an innovative company in media and CEO Erika Nardini as one of 2018’s Most Creative People in Business, we reached out to Nardini to discuss this week’s events. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Fast Company: I’ve seen the reactions of some Barstool staff who are contrite about what’s happened with Miel Bredouw, and I’ve seen Dave Portnoy’s reaction, which is, uh, less contrite. What’s your general reaction to the whole situation?
Erika Nardini: I am not pleased with how we responded. The way we responded to Miel, what we responded to her with, the accounts we responded to her from, I think what Barstool botched in this case is the response. And part of the reason we really botched that, and we own that, is that we weren’t getting a response back and we were eager to get a response back because the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] strike was significant, because there’s a quota of how many you can get on Twitter. One of the other things we worked through is that the standards and practices on each platform is different–so the way we resolve matters. In the case of Twitter, it’s a different type of platform than Facebook or Instagram uses, and it’s much harder to find a resolution that does something besides counterclaiming. Counterclaiming is really the most significant point of escalation in this instance, and it’s the only point of escalation that forces conversation around the rights. So in this particular instance, in 99% of other cases, we are able to connect directly with the person whose video is in question and it’s resolved quite neatly. In this case, we were not able to reach her, and where we messed up is we kept trying and we kept trying after it was very obvious that she did not like Barstool, nor did she want to be contacted by Barstool. So that was bad on our part. But the other issue is that by our count, someone submitted that video to us claiming we had the right to use it. So the counterclaims process is the process where we can force a conversation around who actually owns the rights to this video and what to do about it.
I do want to create context, which I think is missing from a lot of the conversation. First of all, DMCA and rights of usage on the internet is an extremely hot and important topic, and it always has been and it always will be, because the internet is so porous and it’s so constant and there are so many flaws in it. In the case of Barstool, one of the most important things I look at it is how many submissions of videos we get every single day. It’s between 500 and 600 videos sent to us. We have a process where every person who sends us a video has to verify that they in fact own the rights to that video and are giving us permission to post it. So we have an established process in place where people submitting us content abide by the policies that we set. Unfortunately, it’s not fool-proof–just like most things associated with DMCA on the web–and we have people who verify that they own the content they are sending to us, which, in fact, they do not own. As a result, it results in the contention around who owns a specific piece of content. We see this all the time.
The second thing that happens with us is that we’re tagged or mentioned in thousands of pieces of content or thousands of mentions and posts per day, so the traffic and volume of videos flowing through us–we have over 700 social accounts–is enormous. I’ve worked hard, and we’ve worked hard to make sure that we have the right policies and procedures around how we manage submissions of video content. We work hard at it, and we don’t want to steal people’s content and we want to be sure we do the right thing. We want to make sure in the cases that someone has verified that they are the creator of a video and it turns out that they’ve lied, that we do right by the creator. And we do that in three different ways. Most times people want promotion–they want to be credited–so we delete the video in question and retweet it with the creator’s name and their handle tagged on it. Second, they just want the video taken down, and then we take it down. In the third case, people like in any other industry want payment for the infraction of abusing their video, and we work through all of those.
FC: If Barstool’s response to Bredouw was botched, what would have been the right way to handle it at the point when it was clear she wasn’t going to respond?
EN: To be honest, I would say most everything and anything about how we responded was wrong. And what I’ve been working on the last 48 hours is completely overhauling our protocol for how we manage video. We have a very good submission process in place. What we lack is an equally strong resolution process, and that’s everything from the account we use to reach out to a person and the mechanism by which we reach out to a person, and we’re in the process of overhauling all that and that will be done this week. But what I saw was really a failure in communication and resolution.
FC: What resolution is planned for this instance and for going forward?
EN: We have to look at every video case by case. Because every video is different, the motivation of the person submitting to us, the motivation of the person who tags us [are different]. Do they want to be shameless by being tagged in a Barstool Sports video? I wouldn’t say we have a uniform–there will be a uniform resolution in this case—in every case, we want to make sure that 1) people abide by our policies when they submit videos and that they only submit videos they have the rights to, and 2) in cases where people violate our policies, we have the right way to mitigate that with the person who submitted it, and with the person whose video it actually is. That’s what I’m focused on.
FC: Is there going to be a difference in that verification process in the future, despite the high volume of submissions?
EN: We’re looking at that right now, and it’s very complicated. Part of it’s technology, part of it’s manpower, so that’s what exactly we’re looking into right now is, what is that verification process?
FC: When did this particular DMCA issue with Bredouw come to your attention? Was it before she put out that thread earlier this week?
EN: No, I saw it at the same time she put out the thread. In fact, that’s when most people at Barstool saw it.
FC: Do you think this is something that should have come to your attention sooner?
EN: I mean, she didn’t respond to us. This was a video that posted months ago, and she was unresponsive to multiple attempts to create resolution over three and a half months. Proactively, we are implementing new ways of managing this process that we can control, but in this case, I can’t control how she responds and what she does, so we’re choosing to focus on what we can do and making sure we do the right thing.
FC: Has anyone at Barstool been disciplined or fired over this whole episode?
EN: I’m not gonna answer that directly, but what I will say is I have overhauled every touchpoint of how we manage this process, including who, what, when, where, and why.
FC: The measures to prevent something like this from happening again, they are still in development, but is there anything you can say about them?
EN: So, two things. One is that there are millions of videos that are being shared, posted, re-posted, tweeted, commented on, and shared illegally on the internet–and that’s not going to change. We understand that we live in a very high-volume medium, and we have a very strong process for submission. We will continue to have a strong submission process. The thing that we have to improve, and will improve, is how we respond, the mechanism by which we respond, the way we create resolution. Some of that we can control at Barstool, some of it is dependent on the platforms that we work with. In the case of Twitter, there’s only so much I can do within the constraints of Twitter’s DMCA structure. There’s a lot of things we’re going to change–the accounts we reach out from, the number of times we reach out, the language we’re using, what are the ways we’re mitigating when a video has been shared to us and given permission to use it from someone who didn’t have the right to give us permission. How do we understand who agreed to give it to us, their relationship with the person who made the video, and how we make it right with that person? So those are things we can do and are working on, and there are things that we are working on with social platforms where we’re dependent on their system in terms of how we escalate and manage.
FC: Have you spoken to Bredouw or any other content creators who’ve claimed their videos were used uncredited?
EN: No, I have not personally. They have not reached out to me directly. And to be honest, most cases are resolved very quickly at the time they happen.
FC: In addition to the original uncredited usage of Bredouw’s video, there seems to have been what amounts to almost a harassment campaign against her, with all these people tweeting at her “answer the DM” and . . .
EN: Those weren’t Barstool employees. In fact, one thing I will stand by is we made some idiotic overtures in terms of creating resolution, but the way that our team–you know, I will never do this again, we will create different processes for it–but our team was polite and courteous and respectful in that process.
FC: I’m just trying to figure out how so many other accounts would know to tweet “answer the DM” at her, you know?
EN: That’s the internet. That’s Twitter. I’ll give you an example, someone who followed her posted a screenshot that was supposed to be us corresponding with her about the DMCA, and there was an uproar about that, where we were getting tagged, we were getting DM’d. And the reality was 1) it wasn’t our company, it came from Total Frat Move, and 2) Total Frat Move then came out and said it was a fake account using their name. And there is outrage and posting and commenting at every single step of the process.
FC: Is there any way to–I guess it’s not necessarily possible to change your fans’ behavior–but is there anything to do in the culture of Barstool to not have fans harass people in the future?
EN: I think what you saw yesterday and over the past two days is we were contrite about the way it was handled, we were blunt about how we felt about how our employees handled it, we were forthcoming in terms about how the system actually works and that we do have a very robust system. So from a company perspective, that is what we do control, which is what our employees share and say. We can always be better at that, such as the case of the resolution of the DMCA. But in terms of how people react to Barstool, I think it goes in every which way, to be honest with you, and frankly that’s the nature of the platform and the nature of bigger conversations on Twitter.
FC: Speaking of being contrite, have you personally issued an apology?
EN: To whom?
FC: Either to Bredouw, or just on behalf of the company to content creators with disputes?
FC: Because an apology wasn’t merited?
EN: What exactly am I apologizing for?
FC: That through some apparent flaw in the system, people can game it so that they’re consenting to have other people’s videos used by Barstool.
EN: But that’s not the fault of Barstool. I can’t apologize for every human on the internet who submits a video under a dummy email account and says it’s theirs. My job is to make sure our system is as best as it can be, understanding the nature of the internet, and that’s what I’m focused on.