Earlier this month, Elliot Tebele, the marketing mastermind behind the @FuckJerry Instagram account, saw an ugly surprise—a drop in over 300,000 followers. But this was no accident: this was the work of a campaign called #FuckFuckJerry, a rally cry for people to unfollow the account that’s been allegedly stealing memes for years.
Making Moves to Fuck FuckJerry
Vulture writer Megh Wright spearheaded the hashtag on Twitter and wrote an article outlining how Elliot Tebele has been profiting from other people’s work—designers, comedians, writers and content creators. This group of uncredited creators and their supporters are striking back against mega-accounts who take others’ work.
“Most people who make original content online have been aware of what accounts like @FuckJerry do for years,” said Wright. But a red flag went off after Wright saw the Fyre Festival documentary air on Netflix….and saw Elliot Tebele in the credits as an executive producer.
“It prompted me to check out their Instagram, where I found the Comedy Central ads as well as a bunch of tweets they had stolen from people and turned into ads for their tequila and card game,” she said. “Between that and the fact that they produced the Netflix Fyre documentary—which doesn’t get into the fact that they also did the marketing and social media work for Fyre and were very much complicit in misleading people—I just felt fed up with their scamming, started tweeting about it.”
High-profile comedians like Patton Oswalt, John Mulaney, and Colin Hanks have jumped on board supporting the movement, leading to 320,000 Instagram unfollows, according to Wright. The FuckJerry Twitter has since gone private as well.
After her article was published, Comedy Central pulled their ads from @FuckJerry’s account, telling Vulture: “Comedy Central requested to have any existing ads pulled from the FuckJerry account. We have no plans to advertise with Jerry Media in the future.”
It was a hopeful move for all the independent comics who promote their work on Instagram. “Comedy Central should stand behind comedians and original work, not a marketing company that has made tons of money by stealing comedians’ jokes,” said Wright. “I think that was a great move on Comedy Central’s part and gave me hope that other advertisers might do the same. Bumble has also pulled out of advertising with FuckJerry’s accounts.”
The Future According to Elliot Tebele
According to an article in LAMag.com, Vic Berger, an L.A. video artist saw his work posted by @krispyshorts, an account in the FuckJerry network, uncredited and unacknowledged. Despite the message he sent the account owner, he was blocked and never received credit.
Another, a graphic designer who goes under the moniker of @teenagestepdad, says it takes him up to six hours to create a meme and that he doesn’t mind people sharing his work, except when he saw it used to promote Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary (the one produced by Telebele’s umbrella company Jerry Media) without acknowledgement or credit.
Tebele released a statement on Medium that outlines how he plans to change things going forward. “I know I’ve made enemies over the years for using content and not giving proper credit,” he writes. “In the early days of FuckJerry, there were not well-established norms for reposting and crediting other users’ content, especially in meme culture.”
“Given the conversations over the past few days, and the issues that have come to light, it is clear, however, that we need to do better,” wrote Tebele. “Effective immediately, we will no longer post content when we cannot identify the creator, and will require the original creator’s advanced consent before publishing their content to our followers.”
A Lack of Protection
But is that enough? Times have changed, and so has content creating. Considering that Elliot Tebele makes $35,000 a post (or more), according to an Adweek report in 2016, he clearly stands to profit from his curated online identity. The umbrella under Jerry Media includes other Instagram heavy hitters: @fuckjerry.tv, @jerrynews, @beigecardigan, @foodie, @pizza, and @vibes, and that’s not a full list. Jerry Media’s impact is widespread, and it comes at a cost brands are willing to pay.
And Wright has another point: the platform. “Instagram isn’t actively enforcing its own rules; copyright infringement and turning stolen work into advertisements,” she said, “when it comes to accounts that are running ads and monetizing other people’s jokes and art without permission or payment. And then on top of that, advertisers are supporting that.”
It isn’t exactly a regulated industry with intellectual property rights, industry standards, and contracts. So how can designers, artists, and content creators be properly credited for their work? And how can they profit when others profit from their work too? Is there a system waiting to be discovered – one based on impressions or clicks or percentages? Designers, content creators, and comics could wholly benefit from a new system, and their representatives, agents, and agencies could benefit too.
The Future According to Megh Wright
“People are starting to become aware and at least have conversations about it, which I think is a good first step on the road to change, because we haven’t really addressed this before to this degree,” said Wright.
It all comes down to each creator, comic, and content maker protecting themselves. “No one else is going to do it for you, so you need to be active and engaged about it,” said Wright. “If you see that a big account has stolen your work and they’re making money off ads and promoting their own products on the account, don’t ask them to credit you—file a copyright infringement report. These accounts are making money off your talent, creativity, and hard work, and they’re not going to change unless creators take a strong stand and fight back.”