Memes can be a way to share humour with other people online, and for most to pass the time. But some forget that they are also original content and the rise of meme aggregators such as F**kJerry and The Fat Jew who stole jokes from comedians and content from personal social media accounts without giving proper attribution or payment means setting a precedent for the industry to not care about copyright.
F**kJerry, an Instagram account created by Elliot Tebele in 2011, is a meme aggregator, which means it reposts memes and jokes and does not create original content. But it uses other people's content to make money by charging brands as much as US$30,000 to sponsor its posts.
According to video artist Vic Berger who has had his content stolen from F**kJerry, Tebele's "…entire business model is built on ripping people off".
Recently a few comedians got fed up with the F**kJerry stealing their jokes. Megh Wright, a writer for Vulture, noticed that Comedy Central was running sponsored content with F**kJerry, and realised how unacceptable it was for one of the biggest companies in comedy to support the biggest joke thief in comedy. Wright launched the #F**kF**kJerry campaign, tweeting at various comedians and celebrities who followed F**kJerry’s account, urging them to unfollow the account.
The movement gained momentum and the message has been retweeted by prominent comedians Amy Schumer, Patton Oswalt and John Mulaney, and celebrities such as Ronan Farrow, Colin Hanks and Perez Hilton.
The Instagram account has lost about 300,000 followers, and it is now holding steady at 14 million.
It was recently revealed that F**kJerry was behind the marketing of Fyre Fest, and was enlisted in running its social media in the months leading up to the event. Fyre Fest was a failed "luxury music festival" in 2017 that fell apart when guests arrived at the Caribbean island realised it was a massive fraud. After the festival fell apart, F**kJerry pivoted from promoting it to producing a documentary about it in partnership with Netflix and Vice.
F**kJerry previously refused to take down content they have stolen from comedians, and even insulted the comedians when they were called out on social media. But the #F**kF**kJerry campaign has led to them releasing a statement about being humbled and respectful of original content creators, far removed from their previous recalcitrant position.
"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. It is clear that attribution is no longer sufficient, so permission will become the new policy," F**kJerry said in their statement.
The movement seems to have worked and F**kJerry has come out saying sorry to stop hemorrhaging followers. A cursory view of F**kJerry's Instagram account now comes up with proper attribution on every post. Will the other content aggregators follow their example? There is really no excuse not to, as social media was built on stealing jokes, but it has now matured and there are more checks and balances. These are the new rules of social media – attribute, or be shamed. And content aggregators should heed this.