FuckJerry’s long con might finally be catching up with it.
The controversial meme account, created by Elliot Tebele in 2011, culls the internet and curates memes for its over 14 million Instagram followers. This ethically murky content curation has only gotten more questionable as Tebele has expanded his empire, founding the marketing and social media agency Jerry Media and the tequila brand JAJA. These endeavors are seemingly sustained by a good deal of pilfered content. As Vice reported in February, “Today, Jerry Media employs dozens of people and charges tens of thousands of dollars to post memes for brands on @fuckjerry and other accounts.” FuckJerry has long been accused of turning a profit off of content that they did not pay for or properly credit.
Now, a content creator named Olorunfemi Coker is suing FuckJerry, Jerry Media, Elliot Tebele, and JAJA spirits, alleging that they jacked his content in an attempt to sell their tequila.
The copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit is seeking redress for “the unauthorized and unlawful publishing and exploitation of [Coker’s] original content by Defendants, as well as for the Defendants’ false representations concerning the origin, association or endorsement of goods or services using Coker’s name.” This comes in the wake of a separate copyright infringement case filed against Jerry Media by a Fyre Fest attendee, who alleges that they incorporated her original footage in their Netflix Fyre Fest documentary—FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened—without her authorization.
Coker claims that in January 2019, Jerry Media posted his content, “which included Coker’s name, under the @fuckjerry name via its @fuckjerry Instagram account, advertising, referencing, and tagging JAJA.” He further alleges that Jerry Media did not acquire his written consent, and were not authorized to use his content or his name “for the purposes of advertising and promoting both Jerry Media and JAJA.” In legal docs, he makes it known that he messaged Jerry Media “advising of the violations of his rights and seeking redress from the above violations, but did not receive a response.” Coker is seeking monetary relief “in an amount to be determined at trial.”
Even before Coker’s suit, FuckJerry was under siege from content creators who were sick of being fucked with. The #FuckFuckJerry campaign began in earnest when Vulture’s Megh Wright starting urging celebrities to unfollow FuckJerry and encourage their followers to do the same. In a piece for Vulture entitled “How the #FuckFuckJerry Movement Was Born,” Wright wrote that Jerry Media’s involvement in the Netflix documentary Fyre, about the disastrous music festival that they just so happen to have been hired to promote, was one of the main catalysts for her campaign.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, Elliot Tebele’s executive producer credit on the doc rendered Netflix’s Fyre incredibly sus: “When Fyre Festival was an enviable account, Jerry Media benefited from their partnership. Now that it’s a viral joke, Jerry Media and advertising company Matte Projects have contributed their insights and exclusive footage to a buzzworthy new documentary, getting a chance to steer the narrative and possibly downplay their own complicity in the process.”
Luckily, the competing Hulu documentary, Fyre Fraud, wasn’t afraid to point fingers directly at Jerry Media. An ex-employee, Oren Aks, alleges in the film that Jerry Media was complicit in Billy McFarland’s scam. As Fyre Fraud director Jenner Furst told The Ringer, “We have emails that prove that people knew months in advance what was going on and we have a whistle-blower from inside that social media company [Jerry] who says that he knew months before that this wasn’t going to be what it was sold as.” Furst went on to call out Netflix for “going and partnering with folks who marketed the Fyre Festival and were well aware that this was not going to happen as planned.” (Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, however, reportedly paid McFarland six figures to appear in their doc.)
“Why were so many people watching FuckJerry’s Fyre documentary without noting the clear conflict of interest?” Wright found herself wondering. “Why were over 14.3 million people following an Instagram marketing account? And most importantly, why hasn’t FuckJerry been effectively called out and held accountable for all of its scammy, exploitative behavior?”
Wright’s campaign received overwhelming support from, and fostered solidarity between, comedians and content makers, including Olorunfemi Coker. In a late January Twitter thread, Wright reached out to the makers of memes and tweets that @fuckjerry had posted. She reached out to Coker, writing, “hey @iamfemifactor how much did FuckJerry pay you to use your content to advertise his tequila brand?” He responded, “Nothing, not a cent.”
The FuckJerry backlash was so severe that Tebele released a February statement attempting to make amends. “Following the renewed discussion on social media over the past few days — some based on our involvement in the Fyre Festival and subsequent documentary films — I feel I need to make some comments and clarify some misconceptions,” the FuckJerry founder began. “I know I’ve made enemies over the years for using content and not giving proper credit and attribution to its creators. In the early days of FuckJerry, there were not well-established norms for reposting and crediting other users’ content, especially in meme culture. Instagram was still a new medium at the time, and I simply didn’t give any thought to the idea that reposting content could be damaging in any way.”
Tebele continued, “It is clear that attribution is no longer sufficient, so permission will become the new policy.”
In a well-researched clapback at the time, The Fashion Law noted that, “Tebele’s announcement that Fuck Jerry has opted to update its approach and that ‘permission will become the new policy,’ is literally nothing more than Tebele saying that now, after 8 years in business, Fuck Jerry will begin to abide by the law and not choose to consistently disregard it.”
After nearly a decade of allegedly conning creators, will FuckJerry finally face real consequences?