Copyright on "Fleek:" Kayla Lewis and Other Black Creators Deserve Compensation

By Jaylin Paschal

Kayla Lewis, better known online as Peaches Monroee, made a major cultural contribution by way of Vine when she coined the term "on fleek." In the short clip, Lewis offers a not-so-humble brag through the statement, "We in this bitch. Finna get crunk. Eyebrows on fleek. Da fuq?" The Vine, posted in June of 2014, acquired about 40 million "loops," and was catapulted into "Internet virality." 

"Fleek" was embraced by black Viners and transitioned seamlessly into black culture. And, in the inevitable pattern of capitalism, was championed by the mainstream.

The term has leapt off of the Internet and into our everyday lives, as several Internet trends have and will. You can find "fleek" sprawled across Forever 21 pieces, Dollar Store phone cases and Rue 21 book bags. Rihanna, style goddess, donned an "on fleek" beanie. Ariana Grande posted her own Vine singing "on fleek." The term was discussed by journalist icon Anderson Cooper. And brands like iHop used the term within social media marketing. "Fleek" sold more products than several commercial campaigns, as it became the basis of article clickbait, YouTube tutorials and beauty objectives. It became symbolic of cultural relevance.

Yet Lewis has received no payment, compensation or endorsement deal.

Too often, black trends and terms seep into mainstream capitalist ventures without credit, let alone compensation. This is nothing new. We're all tired of black teen's creativity and intellectual property being hijacked by corporations; being embraced, but exploited. Black social spaces, especially the sacred digital grounds of "Black Twitter," are modern day marketing firms and ad agencies, but with no paid writer in the (chat)rooms. This lack of payment, compensation or endorsement is frequent for black creators online, which is unusual when juxtaposed to the gains of white teenagers from videos like "Damn Daniel" and "Cash Me Outside."

It's certainly not unreasonable for Lewis to want to be compensated by either fast fashion companies or marketing firms, as she sees a term she created at the foreground of popular culture for going on three years. Now she is asking for donations via GoFundMe to fund a cosmetics and hair products line, undoubtedly in an effort to make more young girls all the more fleeky. It is ambitious, but not absurd. And definitely not undeserving.

Which is why it's incredibly important for us as online content creators and social media users, especially those of us who are of color, to understand how to protect our intellectual property. We need to understand that through certain mediums, we are not the technical owners of our work, but rather Twitter, Vine or Snapchat is.

Furthermore, we need to understand when we can capitalize on what we are most known for creating. "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 (The Fader)." 

It's also hella important that we beat the clock before our creations are too widely mimicked, which is almost impossibly tricky in today's instantaneous Internet-driven society. K.J. Greene explains in "Lady Sings the Blues: Intellectual Property at the Intersection of Race and Gender" that "the idea/expression dichotomy of copyright law prohibits the protection for raw ideas. [...] I contend that this standard provided less protection to innovative black composers, whose work was imitated so widely it became 'the idea.'"

Lastly, understand that oftentimes you will have to prompt both your own business and legal ventures to protect your digital property. “Copyright law and intellectual property in America does not follow the creative production of artists. Rather, it protects the interests of companies. I think it is now harder to distinguish a non-commercial (fair) use from a commercial one," Dana Nelson of D.F. Nelson PLLC told The Fader.

Although this is admittedly discouraging, remain creative and vigilant. Know your rights, and know their wrongs. Black creatives make the world go 'round, and we do deserve something for that. After all, through just one six-second Vine, "Peaches Monroee" made her mark on "the culture." If her eyebrows are on fleek, her bank account should be, too. Da fuq?

Jaylin PaschalComment