Matt Furie, the creator of a stoner frog character in the comic "Boy’s Club" back in 2006, knows exactly what brand managers feel like when their creations take on a life on their own. Brand names like Google, Hoover, Kleenex, Taser, Velcro, Superglue, Skype and Xerox became verbs, and pose a new problem for intellectual property lawyers and the brand managers trying to keep control. The frog from Boy's Club has been living large on the internet since he first escaped a simple comic book square quipping "feels good man," and by way of the chans has entered the mainstream. Pop culture icons like Katy Perry tweeted Pepe, Niki Minaj Instagrammed Pepe and even social media sassy brand Wendy's tweeted a Wendy-Pepe before quickly deleting it after backlash. You see, ever since Hillary Clinton posted the "Pepe the Frog explainer" on her campaign website, the comic frog went from meme to "alt-right nazi hate symbol," fast. Or from tired meme to super-charged meme, depending on who you ask.
Matt Furie, even tried to kill Pepe at some point, hoping that this, somehow would put the toothpaste back into the tube. But that just made it messier, now fatherless Pepe was adopted by everyone who liked that a wee green frog now upset so many people. Gab.ai has a simple frog as their site symbol. People added the frog emoji to their twitter names. Hanif Bali, an Iranian-Swedish politician and member of the Moderate party in Sweden, tweeted a picture of himself drinking milk and making the OK hand sign with an emoji-frog, and Swedish political discourse still hasn't recovered. Matt Furie wants to take back control. So he has sued Infowars over Pepe.
Arla bjuder på mjölk.
— Hanif Bali (@hanifbali) July 6, 2017
In the lawsuit, filed this Monday, Furie alleges copyright infringement stemming from a stylized poster sold on the Infowars website. There's a $29.95 poster which features a depiction of Pepe alongside other MAGA stars drawn by artist Jon Allen, including Donald Trump, Roger Stone, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Diamond & Silk, and Jones himself.
"The establishment wants this taken down," the description of the poster reads on the site, "Instead, celebrate the historic victory and frame this conversation starter in your home!'''
Alex Jones calls the lawsuit "frivolous" in a statement released on the website, and accuses it of being part of a larger attempt by media outlets to make Infowars "public enemy number one."
"We did not create the posters, that are protected speech, that are transformative," Jones says, stating the use of the frog in an item for sale "is 100% protected by the courts, protected by the first amendment, protected by fair use." Because not holding the artists tool while selling something for profit absolves you from all responsibility of infringement? That's some special logic you have there, Jones.
The thing about fair use is that it's a bit like porn, no it's not the staples in the middle, it's that a judge knows it when he sees it. It's not at all obvious that a simple depiction of Pepe is transformative enough to side-step copyright infringement when Pepe is a full-fledged character. Furie, like creators Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane, Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson and countless other character creators have a right to their characters. Even after they evolve. That's old IP territory. What is new IP territory is that this little frog became world-famous to most people as a meme, and not as a character in Matt Furie's cult comic Boy's Club. A bit like how thousands of normies.. sorry, people are fawning over Black Panther today, blissfully unaware of his 1961 debut alongside the Fantastic Four in a ¢12 comic book.
Furie's lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a permanent injunction against any further copyright infringements regarding his beleaguered creation. Matt Furie has also sued Kansas City-based artist named Jessica Logsdon who has been selling Pepe-art on eBay. That suit is still pending.