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Who Gets Paid for Digital Labor?

Internet memes are often positioned as “democratic” and “egalitarian”—that is, a way for everyone to have a voice—but left out of this conversation is: who does the work and who gets paid for it?

In the lifecycle of a viral meme, content becomes commodity, so a random phrase on a viral YouTube video can end up as a screenprint on a t-shirt or even a Billboard Top 100 hit. But if memes are FREE and mostly un-copyrightable, who gets paid when digital content becomes physical dollars?


Focusing on black viral stars like Sweet Brown, Antoine Dodson and lesser-known figures like Peaches Monroe and Brionna London—it’s worth remembering that as usually the case, the most innovative cultural producers are often also the most powerless. 

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 © 2020 by Christopher Benton

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