In late 2016, Jo Anna Parker, a 44-year-old family law and custody lawyer from Phenix City, Alabama, found herself entangled in a strange but intense battle with another lawyer over a tweet. It would quickly be referred to as "Parrot-Ghazi" within ~Legal Twitter~ circles.
In September, Parker tweeted a joke inspired by a trial she had that day settling visitation between a divorced couple over their dog. She hilariously imagined what it'd be like if it were a pet parrot instead.
But peculiarly, two months later, she came across a very, very similar tweet from a business lawyer from Philadelphia, Michael Adler. His tweet eventually went hugely viral — so far it has over 55,000 retweets.
Adler told this story — which, according to him, involved a real trial with a real couple. And a real parrot, allegedly.
But Parker wasn't buying any of it. She thought the whole story was a complete fabrication by Adler "for five seconds of marginal fame." She then took to his mentions: "You went to law school AND stole my tweet," she replied.
When more people started to realize it was likely a copied tweet, they retaliated hard.
Internet detectives soon found other tweets Adler may have copied verbatim — or, er, were a series of magical and unfortunate coincidences.
Here's one from user @Allen_Clifton on July 23, 2016.
And from Adler two days later.
Samir Mezrahi, a former BuzzFeed employee and the creator of the account @KaleSalad, started @KaleSalad with the sole mission to promote viral tweets and give direct credit to the original tweets by retweeting them.
Mezrahi believes it's certainly possible people on Twitter could innocuously come up with the same joke, but it's become more pervasive to republish someone else's joke and then, well, play dumb.
"It's definitely shitty when people take jokes that other people make, but that has become the nature of this platform," he told BuzzFeed News.
"Most of the people who do that, though, probably wouldn't claim that they made it up. They just did it because, like, who's going to stop them? It's not like it's illegal."
It's certainly not punishable by law, but legal blogs perked up at the ~controversy~ and began covering it closely. Soon, terms like "plagiarism" and "public misrepresentation" were circulating.
Meanwhile, Adler not only denied stealing the tweet to BillyPenn.com in a follow-up interview, but he also went on the BBC to further the narrative of the supposed parrot trial — and with new details.
Months went by, and Parker noticed Adler still had not deleted the tweet, despite people continually calling him out. She wanted to open the dialogue, this time publicly, about this evolving notion of intellectual property online.
Jeanne Fromer, a professor at NYU who specializes in copyright law and intellectual property, told BuzzFeed News this drama — albeit silly on the surface — does touch on new "interactions between law and norms" online.
Fromer said, assuming Adler did steal the parrot tweet, there are no legal consequences for it. But given how public Twitter is, there could be other ramifications. "He might end up losing some business," she said.
"We want to make things copyrightable to inspire people to create, but tweets are interesting because what drives people to tweet?" Fromer said.
In this case, she speculates it could be "business reasons" for Adler to drive more attention and ultimately bring in more clients.
Adler told BillyPenn.com at the time that the parrot tweet brought him 80 more followers. He said he gained 800 followers after a viral lottery tweet. "This has been a way to brand myself,” Adler explained.
Ultimately, Parker just wants a modicum of justice. "A lot of people do believe Twitter is just Twitter," she said. "But for some people, especially comedians, it’s very important to them that their ideas are not stolen."
BuzzFeed News attempted to interview Adler about the parrot trial that allegedly inspired his viral tweet, and to respond directly to Parker's comments, but he eventually declined.
"I really don't want to prolong this Twitter war with someone who I have never met and whose 'tweet' I never saw before my post," he wrote back in a short email.
Tanya Chen is a social news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Tanya Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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