Pepe the Frog will get his day in court.
Or at least his creator will in a lawsuit against two companies run by far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald in Los Angeles set a July 16, 2019, trial date for the case brought by Pepe’s creator, Matt Furie, against the Texas-based companies Infowars, LLC, and Free Speech Systems, LLC. Fitzgerald also set an April 22, 2019, deadline to complete settlement talks and referred both sides to a magistrate judge to hold discussions.
Furie sued Jones’ two companies in March, alleging copyright infringement and seeking unspecified damages. He also seeks a permanent injunction barring unauthorized use of the image by assorted factions of the racist “alt-right.”
Furie has said he sued because he’s “dismayed by Pepe’s association with white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and the alt-right,” including unauthorized use of the image by President Donald Trump and his supporters, including Alex Jones.
Jones is not personally listed as a defendant, but he turns up repeatedly in the lawsuit and is described as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist.” The lawsuit also tabs Jones as a member of “an antigovernment far-right that blames the world’s ills on a grand global conspiracy.”
His “Alex Jones Show” is syndicated to over 100 radio stations nationwide, and is simulcasted on YouTube and his website, infowars.com, the suit says.
Revenue from the radio show and its companion Infowars web site — estimated at more than $7 million a year — comes from products sold through radio programming and items offered for sale, the suit says.
Among items Jones’ companies have previously offered for sale is a copyright-infringing poster, prominently featuring a copy of Pepe. The poster sold for $29.95, with Jones claiming sales help “support Infowars in the fight for free speech.”
The items no longer appear to be for sale at the Infowars store. A search for “Pepe” on the website as well as of the merchandise available also produced no results for the cartoon frog.
In the unauthorized poster sold by Jones’ companies, “Pepe appears alongside Jones, Trump, conservative commentator Matt Drudge, strategist Roger Stone, and other individuals associated with the Trump 2016 campaign,” the suit says. Also depicted on the poster are infowars.com editor Paul Joseph Watson and Milo Yiannopoulos, former editor of Breitbart News, “both of whom have been associated with alt-right and nativist or white nationalist viewpoints,” the suit says.
In his defense, Jones has told the court that Infowars didn’t design or produce the poster, which is protected by law.
Furie notes in the lawsuit he did not give permission for Jones, Trump or anyone associated with the alt-right to use Pepe, often depicted with large, rounded, brownish-red lips, bulging eyes, puffy eyelids and a human-shaped body. Before he was hijacked as a hate meme, the suit says, Pepe “was a peaceful frog-dude — a kind and blissful cartoon character, who lived alongside three animal roommates.”
The meme became famous in part, the suit says, because of his catchphrase, “feels good man.” By 2014, Pepe was featured prominently in internet memes.
The alt-right adopted Pepe in 2015, mixing the frog image in with depictions of hate, including white supremacist language and Nazi symbols.
Trump got in on the act during the 2016 presidential election, posting an image on Instagram labeled “The Deplorables” and featuring Pepe standing behind Trump alongside other supporters of his campaign.
Furie is an artist living in San Luis Obispo County, California, whose art includes children’s book illustrations for adults that blend child-like characters and adult situations.