TikTok users are locked in a heated debate after producer Gyllian Carter appeared to hint that viral food reviewer and influencer Keith Lee stole her idea for a TV show pilot by interacting with comments that implied that he was the “food critic and thief” that she referenced in a viral exposé on Jan. 21.
In the initial TikTok, which garnered over 3.5 million views, Carter says she has “won a lot of Emmys” and that she is “good” at what she does, explaining she pitches shows to networks on a freelance basis. She details the process of reaching out to creators and developing pitches, which she then presents to different networks. At the end of the video, Carter expresses her frustration that a “beloved” TikTok creator allegedly “stole” a pitch that she had worked with them on.
“I pitched them an idea to take to networks, and they basically said, ‘No,’ in a nice way but then stole my fucking idea,” she says.
The caption reads, “I’m frustrated and disappointed that they just stole my idea. Its never happened to me before and I’m not sure what my next decision is going to be. #whysteal #foodcriticandthief.” Passionfruit reached out to Carter via email for additional comment but did not hear back in time for the publication of this article.
While Carter has now turned off the comments on all of her TikToks, many viewers speculated that she was calling out popular food reviewer Keith Lee (@keith_lee125), who has over 10 million followers and is widely praised for his humorous personality and fun videos. Lee addresses the rumors in a now-viral video, which has over 13.1 million views.
In Lee’s viral TikTok, he stitches Carter’s video and claims she was interacting with comments that guessed that he was the “food critic and thief” that she wrote in the caption.
“She hasn’t responded to any of them except for the ones tearing me down and calling me out of my name and falsely accusing me of being a thief,” he says in his video. “As an Emmy Award-winning TV producer, I would assume that you know how dangerous labels, especially false labels, can be.”
He then shows a screenshot of an Instagram direct message he sent to Carter, asking her to email him so he could “CC [his] agent.” In the message, he tells Carter that he’s meeting with another person who is pitching a show but would still “love to talk to [her] as well.” Lee continues that Carter did not respond to him until Dec. 13, 2022, explaining that, by then, he already finished three meetings with producers who all pitched the “same” TV show concept to him.
“The premise was I find a restaurant that is struggling. I go into the restaurant in disguise, try the food, rate it, and tell the people what I thought. I’ve been doing that,” he says. “The first time I posted this was Dec. 9. It was a spin-off of another video on Dec. 2—nine days before she reached out to me.”
Lee says he started wearing disguises recently because with over “9 million followers,” he wants to ensure that restaurants don’t treat him any differently when he goes to film a review.
“Me going in disguise and doing what I’ve been doing is not because I got that email from you, Gyllian. And I’m saying that in the most honest and pure form,” he says. “I don’t mean any harm, but I do not appreciate you putting labels on me like that. I have not once stolen anything or taken anything from anybody.”
Passionfruit also reached out to Lee via email for comment.
In a video posted on Jan. 24, Carter explains she is not going to apologize for the situation, saying that she was in “negotiations and contracts” with the creator she was referencing in her original video, saying she was not referencing Lee in her first video.
“My original video was not meant to call anyone out because I don’t know what I’m going to do with this situation just yet. There’s a potential to fight for my idea,” she says. “I was just expressing my frustration, not calling anyone out.”
She further clarifies that she was not referring to Lee.
“We exchanged a few emails. I sent you a pitch,” she says, showing a screenshot of the email she sent to Lee. “I said, ‘Let’s take your idea that you’re already doing and get it onto a different type of platform.’”
Carter continues by addressing Lee directly, saying that his platform gives him a “different type of responsibility” and that he should have reached out to her before posting his response video.
She concludes her follow-up by addressing the hate comments that Lee supporters left on her page, prompting her to shut off comments on all videos.
Several TikTokers offered their perspective on the situation, pointing to the dangers of innuendo when exposing bad work ethic or behavior from other creators.
Activist and community organizer Ohun Ashe (@ohun.ashe) stitched Carter’s follow-up video to break down the miscommunication, explaining how implying a certain creator was at fault without addressing the false rumors created unnecessary, viral drama.
“It’s unfortunate to see two Black people having a misunderstanding out loud. It’s also unfortunate because not many of us are going to make it to Keith Lee status. It seems like when one of us gets there, a whole bunch of drama follows,” Ashe says in a viral video with over 1.1 million views. “As Black folks, we have a responsibility to each other. We have to be able to communicate thoroughly.”
In another stitched video, which has over 191,000 views, influencer Ash (@kingashleyann) says that she was contacted by several producers with TV show pitches but has noticed that they are often “extremely similar.”
“There is very much a possibility that Keith did not steal any idea for a show,” she explains. “I think that this is a missed opportunity for Gyllian and Keith to work together because even though this show may not come to fruition.”
Several law experts also posted their thoughts on social media, coming to the consensus there isn’t much legal ground to claim that an “idea” was stolen. In a viral video, which has over 111,000 views, TikToker Lawyer Wynton (@lawyerwynton) explains “there is no legal protection for an idea.”
“You can’t copyright an idea. You can only copyright, protect the expression of an idea,” he says. “Our boy Keith Lee did not steal an idea.”
Franklin Graves, an intellectual property, tech, and media law attorney who runs a creator economy law newsletter corroborates this, telling Passionfruit, “As a general rule, ideas or general concepts are not eligible for copyright protection in the U.S. making it difficult to shop around ideas with other creators for collaboration or when pitching to a network or production company.”
However, if Carter has contracts in place as she alluded to in her follow-up video, Graves says that there may be grounds for a claim if those documents “provided her sufficient protection over her contributions to the discussions.”
In regards to the impact this situation could have on the two creators’ careers, Scott Sholder, an entertainment lawyer, told Passionfruit the response could go multiple ways, saying, “The fighting could be seen as drama that could drive viewers, but networks or production companies may worry that these two would be difficult to work with and it may be more trouble than it is worth.”
Regarding defamation—a legal issue that occurs when one person publishes a false factual statement to third parties about another person that could damage the subject’s reputation—Sholder said hypothetically creators can be held liable for defaming someone even if they don’t directly name the person.
“You don’t have to name a person by name to defame them as long as it is ‘of and concerning’ the person. Another wrinkle is that these folks are likely considered public figures so the standard for defamation is higher, the speaker has to have had knowledge of the falsity of the statement or reckless disregard of the truth, so it is a harder case to prove all around when celebrities are involved,” Sholder explained.