LOS ANGELES (CN) - Alex Jones and his conspiracy website Info Wars, along with the alt-right, co-opted the cartoon figure Pepe the Frog to spread racist internet memes and now the original creator wants them to stop selling a poster that features the character next to alt-right heroes like Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter, according to a federal copyright complaint filed on Monday.
Pepe the Frog was once a “peaceful frog-dude” created by artist Matt Furie, according to the lawsuit, and was introduced to the world in the 2003 publication, “Play Time.” Furie continued to draw the character in several subsequent comics along with the character's catch phrase, "Feels good man."
But by 2015, the alt-right movement co-opted Pepe the Frog and claimed him as their own, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Central District of California.
Soon the cartoon frog became the mascot for the alt-right, sporting images of swastikas, white supremacist language and other offensive imagery.
Throughout 2015 and the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, different versions of Pepe the Frog with offensive, anti-Semitic and other bigoted imagery grew, mainly in reaction to the character’s mainstream popularity.
By October 2015, an illustration of the character, made to look like then candidate Trump, was posted to Twitter.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign website had an explainer about Pepe the Frog that said it was an alt-right character and in the same year, the Anti-Defamation League added Pepe the Frog to their database of General Hate Symbols.
But it’s the sale of merchandise on the conspiracy website Info Wars, founded by Jones, which has garnered a copyright complaint from Furie.
The Info Wars online store, which also sells emergency survival food and dietary supplements, is selling a poster that features Pepe the Frog alongside alt-right icons Jones, Trump, Yiannopoulos, and Coulter, among other figures, with the text “MAGA” from the Trump campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Furie claims he did not authorize his character to grace the Info Wars poster and said he “does not approve of the association of Pepe with Alex Jones or any of the other figures shown in this poster, or with the ‘MAGA’ slogan.”
He said he is the sole owner of the character and the Info Wars manufactured poster is infringing on his copyright of the character.
According to the complaint, Furie “has expressly licensed his intellectual property rights in Pepe to certain licensees, including Bored Teenager, Hashtag Collectables, Yesterdays, and the creators of the What Do You Meme? card game. Licensed Pepe merchandise includes, for example, “Pepe the Frog - official stuffed doll,” sold by Hashtag Collectables.”
He seeks an injunction to stop Info Wars from selling the poster as well as damages. The complaint also names Free Speech Systems, LLC, the Info Wars online store.
Furie is represented by Rebecca Girolamo from Wilmer Cutler. An email to the Info Wars website was not immediately returned for comment.
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