20 Jun Pepe the Frog Creator Settles with Alex Jones in Copyright Infringement
Artist Matt Furie has settled his copyright infringement lawsuit with Infowars founder Alex Jones for $15,000. Furie is the creator of “Pepe the Frog,” the sleepy-eyed amphibian that was appropriated by the alt-right as their avatar. Infowars created a poster featuring the character, as well as illustrations of Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and other far-right celebrities, as well as the initials MAGA. When Furie discovered the poster being sold on the Infowars website, he sued Alex Jones for copyright infringement. The terms of the settlement also require Infowars to destroy any remaining copies of the poster.
The complaint filed by Furie documents the appropriation of his character by the alt-right. Pepe the Frog was created in the early 2000s as a “blissfully stoned frog” or “peaceful frog-dude.” Furie incorporated Pepe into an online cartoon, “Boy’s Club” in 2005. Furie registered the copyrights to the image, and licensed it for collectibles, card games, and even stuffed toys. The character took off in popularity, appearing as a meme on social media and reposted in celebrity account.
Furie was dismayed, though, when in 2015 Pepe the Frog was seized by users on 4chan and remixed with white supremacist and racist imagery. The character was picked up during the 2015-2016 presidential campaign, appearing on memes supporting Donald Trump and combined with bigoted messages. When the Anti-Defamation League listed Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol, Furie worked with the group to reclaim the character as a symbol of inclusiveness under the hashtag #SavePepe. He also issued DMCA notices to have the character removed from white supremicist websites, such as The Daily Stormer. Furie even went so far as to kill off his character, hoping that would lead to a cessation of the hateful memes.
The Infowars appropriation appears to have been a last straw for Furie. His complaint notes that Alex Jones has been described as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist” and Infowars a major purveyor of “fake news.” His lawsuit asked for actual damages, a permanent injunction against further use of the work, and attorney’s fees. However, Furie had registered the copyright to Pepe after the Infowars poster was created, meaning that he would not be entitled to statutory damages and attorney’s fees*. In May, the judge in the lawsuit limited the potential jury award to $14,000. The amount of the settlement – $15,000 – covers that amount as well as an additional $1,000 Furie plans to donate to the conservation group, Save the Frogs!.
* Before a copyright holder can bring suit against an infringer, the copyright for the work in question must be registered with the Copyright Office. However, to receive the full benefits of copyright registration, the registration has to be “timely”: within three months of publication of the work, or before the infringement has occurred. If the registration is timely, the copyright holder may be awarded statutory damages and legal fees. If the registration isn’t timely, the copyright holder may be awarded only actual damages. For this reason, we recommend that graphic artists register their work early; you can now register up to 10 works in one application.
Top image: Pepe the Frog, © Matt Furie. Used via Know Your Meme.