Do plagiarism laws apply to memes?
That’s the discussion that Tyrell Walden-Martin, an Emmy Award-winning producer and New Haven native, sparked when he repurposed a Michael Phelps meme during the 2016 Olympic games. He shared his story on the latest “#FailMonth” edition of WNHH FM’s “Werk It Out” program with Mercy Quaye.
Walden-Martin was fresh off graduation and had recently secured a contract to work with the NBC Olympic coverage team as a mobile content producer. His job was simple: Provide rich and engaging content for the Prime-Time Companion app, the two-screen experience platform NBC uses during the games.
“While everyone’s watching the prime time hours of the Olympics, I was funneling content to the app,” Walden-Martin said. “So whatever athletes were appearing on TV, I had different cards and trivia — everything was ready to go.”
Before he started coverage of the games, Waldren-Martin said, he recalls a piece of advice from his supervisor: “I had been told to be careful what [I] do on social media, and that [I] have a lot of people watching [me] now.” His supervisor’s words would soon reveal their value.
Walden-Martin said the fail came in two parts. First, he reposted a photoshopped “Crying Jordan” meme of South African swimmer Chad le Clos created by Fox Sports’ Dan Carson on his own feed with no comment or credit. Then he vehemently defended himself to his Twitter critics, saying “once it’s on the Internet, it’s on the Internet.”
“I literally just saved the picture and put it back out there, because, ‘Yo, this is hysterical,’” he said. “And it ended up getting a whole bunch of retweets.”
Carson called him out on it.
“Instead of just sitting back, letting it go, or not responding and letting it be, I responded,” he said. “And that was my biggest mistake.”
The incident went viral and was featured on Awful Announcing, a website that covers news about sports and entertainment.
After catching heat from all angles, Walden-Martin said he knew the situation graduated from a Twitter beef to a potentially career-changing incident.
As his worries about being a young black journalist and being fired from his first post-grad job mounted, he resorted to deleting the Twitter thread and then his account altogether, as advised by his supervisors.
“I think deleting it at the time is what was best for me,” he said.
For the rest of the games, he laid low and tried to rebuild the following he lost during the incident. Once the games ended, Walden-Martin decided it might be time to go back to school to get a better grip on journalism. He’s now attending Quinnipiac University and working public relations for the athletic department.
Although his troubles won him an Emmy as a part of the digital team at NBC, Walden-Martin said he doesn’t see himself getting into another Twitter beef anytime soon.
“Those days are over,” he said. “Now I mainly use Twitter to push and promote my own content, the content that we push for QU Athletics and to just have fun and enjoy the laughs that Twitter brings.”
To Check out Tyrell’s full story, click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live the video below to hear the full episode of “Werk It Out” on WNHH FM.