The artist who created the “Pepe the Frog” cartoon character has sued right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for copyright infringement over a poster sold through the latter’s Infowars website.
Filed in Los Angeles federal court Monday, the complaint brought on behalf of artist Matt Furie takes aim at a pro-Trump poster sold by Infowars that features an image of the frog among a host of right-wing figures, including Mr. Jones, President Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, among others, all appearing above the word “MAGA” – short for “Make America Great Again,” Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign slogan.
“Furie is the sole legal owner of the character and images of Pepe the Frog—an original, creative work in which Furie owns protectable copyright interests,” attorney Rebecca Girolamo argued for the artist. “Furie has registered a number of his copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office and has other copyright applications pending.”
“Furie did not authorize the use of the Pepe image or character in this poster, and does not approve of the association of Pepe with Alex Jones or any ofthe other figures shown in this poster, or with the ‘MAGA’ slogan,” the lawsuit states. “This is therefore an action for copyright infringement. Defendants have infringed Furie’s copyright in the Pepe the Frog character and image.”
The suit names two companies operated by Mr. Jones — Infowars, LLC and Free Speech Systems, LLC — and seeks a permanent injunction keeping either from using the frog, attorneys’ fees and damages to be determined at trial, according to the 18-page copyright-infringement complaint.
“This lawsuit is a complete publicity stunt hoax,” Mr. Jones told The Washington Times. “My lawyers have looked at it and they say it’s completely frivolous.”
“The suit will 100 percent be thrown out,” Mr. Jones said Tuesday.
Mr. Furie created Pepe the Frog more than 15 years ago, and the character — a “blissfully stoned frog,” according to the artist — made its debut in a 2003 publication called “Play Time.” The frog went largely unnoticed for more than a decade until it started appearing in memes around 2014, and the following year the amphibian began being associated with far-right groups, much to the dismay of its creator, Mr. Furie’s attorney wrote.
“[B]eginning in 2015, various fringe groups connected with the alt-right attempted to co-opt Pepe by mixing images of Pepe with images of hate, including white supremacist language and symbols, Nazi symbols and other offensive imagery,” the lawsuit acknowledges.
“Despite Furie’s efforts, Defendants and others have misused Furie’s Pepe character and copied Pepe images for use in products sold online to promote messages of hate. In doing so, Defendants not only copied Furie’s original creation, but also freeloaded off Pepe’s popularity and Furie’s labor.”
The poster sold by InfoWars was “skillfully rendered by renowned artist and patriot Jon Allen,” according to the online product description. “Help support Infowars in the fight for free speech, AND get a high quality limited edition MAGA poster for just $17.76,” the description said.
The post is “beyond fair use,” Mr. Jones told The Times, and “one thousand percent protected” by the Supreme Court.
Other right-wing figures who appear on the poster include Matt Drudge, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, Infowars publisher Paul Joseph Watson and the pro-Trump video bloggers known as Diamond and Silk — “a bunch of iconic images from the 2016 campaign,” Mr. Jones told The Times.
The lawsuit notes that at least four of the 24 people who wrote online reviews for the product identified themselves as residents of California where the complaint was filed.
Mr. Jones advertises his products through his InfoWars website and talk shows broadcast online and by radio stations throughout the country, including five around Los Angeles, according to the lawsuit. The Alex Jones show reached 5 million people daily, and Infowars garnered nearly a half-billion views in 2016, the lawsuit states.