Can a living art project be found guilty of identity theft?
That’s the question posed in the case of Mars Argo (Brittany Sheets), the singer-turned-YouTuber-turned-actress who is suing her former boyfriend and band partner Titanic Sinclair (Corey Mixter) and his current artistic protégé, Poppy (Moriah Pereira).
The lawsuit alleges that Mixter used Pereira to create a “Mars Argo knockoff,” and argues that the duo “copied Mars Argo’s identity, likeness, expression of ideas, sound, style,” and “dyed her hair a specific platinum blonde and, in character as Poppy, started to alter her voice to be a pitch higher to mimic Mars Argo’s distinctive speaking voice.”
It’s a concerning period for Poppy, and the YouTube community-at-large. If Mixter and Pereira are found guilty of ripping off Sheets’ character, and Pereira possibly forced to give up the doe-eyed android personality she’s taken on, there are ramifications for YouTube’s creator ecosystem. It’s not just a case of fair use. Every character or caricature that comes into question could be subject to legal proceedings. — an avenue few YouTubers want to travel down. Much like Ethan and Hila Klein, who battled it out in months over a case of fair use, Pereira and Mixter’s legal proceedings as it relates to copyright infringement will be watched closely.
It’s quickly become one of the most important legal battles in YouTuber history.
The strife isn’t new, though. Sheets’ lawsuit is fresh, but the animosity, disturbances and case building up against Mixter and Pereira, in which copyright infringement and identity theft just scratch the surface of allegations, goes back years.
Who is Mars Argo?
Sheets and Mixter met on MySpace before developing a relationship offline. The two created Mars Largo in 2009, and found some internet fame with their series Computer Show.
There are noticeable similarities between the clip above and Poppy’s first debut as the bubblegum android fans know her as today. One of Computer Show’s most popular episodes, “Delete Your Facebook,” found Sheets and Mixter riffing on American internet culture and people’s obsession with instantaneous fame. It’s one of the only videos left on Sheets and Mixter’s YouTube channel, grocerybagdottv.
Sheets and Mixter moved to Los Angles in 2012 to pursue careers as an indie-pop duo, but by 2014, the relationship had soured and the couple split. Later that year, YouTube welcomed a new art project in the form of a young, teenage girl named Poppy who spoke in a sickly, sweet voice reminiscent of Mars Argo and performed robotic interpretations of human conversation. Her strange presence didn’t go unnoticed, and alongside her newfound business partner, Titanic Sinclair, Poppy soon developed a cult-like fanbase.
Meanwhile, Mars Argo disappeared from YouTube without a trace.
Sheets moved away from the digital space post-breakup, working with friends like screenwriter Max Landis (Bright) and companies like Samsung on a variety of films and commercial work while Mixter and Pereira continued to build their brand on YouTube. She existed, but arguably faded into a distant memory for people who discovered her weird art project with Mixter. Mars Argo, a person-turned-pop-duo-turned-forgotten-YouTuber, was replaced. A fan asked Sheets on Mars Argo’s Tumblr why all of her former videos were listed as private.
“PTSD,” is all Sheets wrote in response.
Two parts of the the lawsuit
There are two parts to Sheets’s lawsuit that are crucial to understanding Pereira, Sheets and Mixter’s relationship.
The first, and perhaps most important, is the alleged domestic abuse Sheets suffered at Mixter’s hands both during and after their relationship. Sheets’ lawsuit alleges that Mixter forced her to endure “severe emotional and psychological abuse and manipulation from Mr. Mixter,” while he “constantly insulted her intellect and denigrated and degraded her in public and in private.” The lawsuit alleges that in April 2015, more than a year after Sheets and Mixter’s relationship ended, Mixter approached Sheets “outside the gate to her home and viciously punched her in the face.”
By December 2015, Sheets stopped posting as Mars Argo, believing that “the only way for her to avoid Mr. Mixter was to hide her whereabouts from him, isolate herself from former friends and acquaintances that Mr. Mixter kept in contact with, and essentially ‘disappear’ so that Mr. Mixter could no longer belittle, abuse, stalk, threaten, harass, or find her,” according to the lawsuit. Just like that, Mars Argo was gone.
The lawsuit also alleges that in mid-2014, a period wherein Mixter was allegedly harassing Sheets, “Mr. Mixter calculatedly transformed another woman, Moriah Rose Pereira – known by the stage name ‘ThatPoppy’ or ‘Poppy’ or ‘I’m Poppy’ (collectively “Poppy”) – into a Mars Argo knockoff.” The lawsuit further states:
From November 2014 to the present, through the Poppy project, Mr. Mixter and Ms. Pereira as Poppy, deliberately copied Mars Argo’s identity, likeness, expression of ideas, sound, style, and aesthetic in YouTube segments, music videos, live performances, internet videos, and other performances or shows. These actions constitute copyright infringement, a violation of Ms. Sheets’ right to publicity, and violation of the California Business and Professions Code.
Sheets is seeking full damages from Mixter for his “personal abuse,” as well as a “domestic violence restraining order against Mr. Mixter in state court during the pendency of this litigation so Ms. Sheets is protected from further retaliation and abuse as a result of this lawsuit.” All of this boils down to Sheets wanting full protection from Mixter both during and after the trial, as well as monetary reimbursement for the alleged abuse he put her through.
Sheets sees Mixter’s behavior and his partnership with Pereira as a way to “drive Ms. Sheets out of the entertainment business – not only stealing her intellectual property but appropriating her entire persona.” It’s an act, Sheets’s lawsuit claims, that both Pereira and Mixter took part in, and one that can all be traced back to mid-2014.
Mars Argo’s fade into the nether realm coincided with Poppy and Titanic Sinclair’s rise to fame. Although Pereira’s YouTube videos can be traced back to 2011, the first video on her Poppy channel is from November 2014.
To quote our look at Poppy’s career:
The version of Poppy seen [in the video] is toned down from the manicured android we know today. She’s a little more carefree, a little less calculated, and evidently more human. The whole ploy of Poppy’s schtick is that she’s not human; or perhaps it’s more accurate to describe her as someone desperately trying to morph into an android.
Poppy’s success is bittersweet for fans who watched Mars Argo crumble. The trio — Sheets, Mixter and Pereira — reportedly met in mid-2014, around the time of Mixter and Sheets’ breakup and just before Poppy’s YouTube debut. Sheets and Pereira’s relationship is fascinating because so little is known about their past, and yet people in Facebook, Reddit and Amino groups spend their entire days trying to look for any evidence that supports conspiracy theories over Sheets and Pereira’s relationship to each other.
Until now, Poppy has never addressed the Mars Argo comparisons, and it took a lawsuit to instigate Pereira’s response. Sheets alleges Pereira stood by and did nothing while Mixter behaved abusively toward Sheets.
Pereira’s response hints at a turbulent period in 2015, after Sheets had departed YouTube, in which a restraining order was filed against a man named Josh Moran. Moran is known in some circles for co-writing hit songs for indie acts like Børns, but is better known to Mars Argo fans as the rumored collaborator for a project in development. The request for a restraining order, which also lists Mixter as someone seeking protection, can be seen below.
“Something very few people know is that one of the reasons I work the way I work, and why I have made such efforts to conceal my identity, is because I have my own history as a survivor of abuse,” Pereira wrote in a statement on Twitter. “This legally documented trauma from my past is something I have never wanted to make public, because I did not want to relive it. Ms. Sheets’ publicity campaign has made that impossible.”
Court documents obtained by Polygon state that “in late 2015, Ms. Sheets decided she had no option but to leave Los Angeles, to try to protect herself from Mr. Mixter’s threats and harassment.”
Pereira and Mixter’s response to the lawsuit didn’t stop there. Pereira used her Poppy character and channel to address the situation, calling out Sheets’ complaints and almost ridiculing the alleged charges. Pereira’s video, which spread across YouTube and was picked up by major outlets, quickly gained criticism for her taunting, jeering tone toward Sheets.
“It’s hard to make out what’s in this video with all the shade,” a comment underneath the video reads.
Poppy bullying a woman taking action against an alleged abuser seemed to be a step too far, even for the YouTube star’s biggest fans.
What happens next?
Pereira hasn’t said anything about the case since then; neither has Mixter or Sheets. The three will head to court where even more details will emerge as Miter and Pereira attempt to defend themselves and their right to Poppy’s identity.
Polygon will update this story with more information as the trial gets underway.