Matt Furie, the cartoonist who created the epochal Pepe the Frog meme, is suing conspiracy theorist website Infowars over “MAGA” posters the site is selling depicting the green frog. Furie’s lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles, claims the website used an image of Pepe on the poster without permission.
“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 of the other figures shown in this poster, or with the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) slogan,” the lawsuit states. Furie is seeking monetary damages and an injunction against Infowars selling any products with Pepe’s image. The poster features Pepe grouped together with President Donald Trump, and divisive figures like Milo Yiannopoulos, Kellyanne Conway, and of course, Alex Jones himself.
Infowars is selling the poster for $29.95 with a note that says the site will be “forced to take it down forever” in an apparent effort to goose sales in response to the lawsuit. Infowars says the poster was created by “renowned artist and patriot” Jon Allen, who “was born a artist but he received formal training at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.” Um, ok.
This is the second lawsuit Furie has filed over the unauthorized use of Pepe according to the Associated Press. In October, he sued a woman from Missouri over paintings she was purportedly selling. The paintings allegedly show Pepe holding a rifle in front of what looks like the White House.
InfoWars founder Alex Jones told the AP that Pepe, which has become a mascot of sorts for the alt-right, is “stupid looking” and a “dumb meme.” Around 1,000 copies of the poster have already been sold, which Jones added is hardly one of the site’s most popular items. “My listeners understand this is all frivolous,” Jones said. “We don’t have any choice but to fight back, and the law is on our side.”
Bizarrely, Infowars also sells a wide range of health supplements, which BuzzFeed News reports are overpriced and ineffective, and the same as those already sold in other stores.
Furie created Pepe in the early 2000s as a “peaceful frog dude,” and featured him in his comic Boy’s Club. But about a year before the 2016 US presidential election, the character started being appropriated on platforms like 4Chan. Members of the ‘alt-right,’ neo-nazis, and internet trolls created Pepe images with racist symbols and hateful imagery which quickly proliferated, and Pepe became associated with those groups. In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League added Pepe to its online database of hate symbols.
Our podcast Why’d You Push That Button deals with meme copyright in more depth.
Furie’s lawyers have previously sent take down notices to “alt-right”-affiliated websites in efforts to stop the co-opting of the character. Furie has also partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to recast the character as a “force for good,” using the hashtag #SavePepe to post positive Pepe memes and messages. Furie has also tried to kill off his creation, but as this latest lawsuit shows, the internet is forever.