LOS ANGELES (CN) – Right-wing conspiracy website Infowars agreed to settle a copyright infringement lawsuit Monday by turning over profits it made from selling an alt-right poster featuring artist Matt Furie’s cartoon “Pepe the Frog” design.
In 2017, Furie sued after right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones began selling the poster, which features the cartoon frog next to Jones, President Donald Trump and prominent alt-right figures Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, with the text “MAGA” – “Make America Great Again,” Trump’s campaign slogan.
Infowars attorneys argued the inclusion of Pepe in the poster was protected by the fair use doctrine of U.S copyright law, which permits limited use of copyrighted works in parodies or to make a political comment.
At a hearing last month, Furie’s attorneys countered that including Pepe in the poster was a “commercial decision,” not political speech and that the artist had not abandoned his legal claim to the cartoon by licensing the image to various partners.
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald rejected Infowars’ motion for summary judgment on a “fair use” defense and scheduled trial for July.
Furie’s attorney Louis Tompros of Wilmer Hale said in a statement Monday that the settlement represents a win for Furie and his claim to the Pepe image.
“Infowars had said it planned to ‘free Pepe once and for all,’ but it backed down rather than face trial and lose,” said Tompros. “If anyone thinks they can make money selling unauthorized 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.”
Infowars made nearly $14,000 before it stopped selling the poster in June 2018. Under the settlement, the website agreed to pay Furie $15,000. Tompros said Furie plans to donate the extra $1,000 to Save the Frogs, a conservation organization.
Under the settlement, Infowars must destroy all remaining Pepe posters and never sell anything featuring Pepe again.
Infowars attorney Robert Barnes said in a statement that the settlement represents a win and that the website prevailed in its “free speech” claims.
“We made our point. We would only pay an honest licensing fee, and nothing more. The other side may have spent over a million in legal fees themselves,” Barnes said. “They would have made more money if they went and waitressed with [U.S. Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a few months.”
Furie first created Pepe the Frog – who has enlarged, red lips and bulging black eyes – in 2003, and continued to draw the figure in subsequent comics.
The alt-right co-opted the cartoon in 2015, spreading images of Pepe the Frog next to swastikas and white supremacist language. The Anti-Defamation League moved to list the cartoon as a hate symbol and then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton published an explainer on why Pepe was a racist meme.