InfoWars founder, conspiracy theorist, and tainted supplement pitchman Alex Jones has settled with artist Matt Furie, creator of the unfathomably widespread Pepe the Frog meme, for $15,000 (£11,800) after InfoWars used the image on an obnoxious poster it sold during the 2016 elections, Vice reported on Monday.
In the past few years, the Pepe character—originally designed as a chill, fun-loving bro who just liked to smoke weed and eat pizza with his animal pals—has become widely associated with online neo-Nazis and other far-right activists, largely because fans of both happen to share digital real estate on anonymous imageboards like 4chan and 8chan.
Furie is very much not a fan of this. In 2017, Furie successfully had an Islamophobic, alt-right children’s book using the Pepe character pulled from sale, and he’s sent other cease and desist notices to a number of other noxious racists including the operators of the Daily Stormer and Richard Spencer and his AltRight.com website. In 2018, Furie filed suit against InfoWars over the poster, which featured Pepe alongside prominent right-wing personalities including then-candidate Donald Trump and his confidante Roger Stone.
The Pepe the Frog poster in question.Graphic: Jon Allen (InfoWars)
According to Vice, Furie’s law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr sent cease and desist orders as well as a Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notice to InfoWars. Jones was the first recipient to resist, apparently, claiming that his usage of Pepe fell under fair use and that Furie had somehow “abandoned his copyright on Pepe the Frog in media interviews.”
That does not appear to have worked. Though the settlement avoided a trial, the $15,000 (£11,800) accounts for all $14,000 (£11,000) InfoWars made in profit from its sale and a $1,000 (£790) extra. InfoWars will be forced to destroy all remaining Pepe posters and never use the frog again, according to the Verge. Furie plans on donating the $1,000 to an amphibian conservation charity, Save the Frogs.
“InfoWars had said it planned to ‘free Pepe once and for all,’ but it backed down rather than face trial and lose,” Furie’s lawyer, Louis Tompros, told Vice. “If anyone thinks they can make money selling unauthorised Pepe merchandise, they’re wrong. Mr. Furie will continue to enforce his copyrights, particularly against anyone trying to profit by associating Pepe with hateful images or ideas.”
“Happy to announce the folks suing Infowars over Pepe the Frog have agreed to settle, and accept a licensing fee of $15,000,” Infowars attorney Robert Barnes wrote in a statement on Jones’ website. “We were originally sued for millions. Some people thought we wouldn’t fight the case. We did. We would only pay an honest licensing fee, and nothing more. The other side may have spent over a million in legal fees themselves. They wanted millions. They thought we wouldn’t fight. They thought we wouldn’t win in court. They thought wrong.”
“They can characterize it however they want to characterize it, but it is very clear that they are not allowed to sell anything with Pepe on it unless they have a license,” Tompros shot back in a statement to the New York Times. “... All the money Infowars made, they don’t have it anymore. They had to turn it over.”
Over the course of the last year, virtually every major internet platform including Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have banned Jones and/or InfoWars and its affiliates, greatly reducing his reach online. Meanwhile, Jones remains embroiled in legal battles against the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, who claim that he and InfoWars staff defamed them, as well as other individuals with similar claims against the site. [Vice]