A Pepe the Frog copyright infringement claim filed against Infowars will proceed to trial, a California federal judge ruled Thursday after being unconvinced by motions argued by either side.
Matt Furie, who created the cartoon frog that became an internet meme and was co-opted by the far right, sued InfoWars for selling a poster of Pepe the Frog depicted alongside Milo Yiannopoulos, InfoWars founder Alex Jones and President Donald Trump. The posters sold for $29.95 apiece and generated gross revenues of over $31,000, the judge’s ruling said.
District Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that InfoWars’ did not provide evidence to back up its argument that Furie’s frog was based on another amphibian from an Argentinian cartoon, El Sapo Pepe. He said Furie having access to the internet was not enough to prove he would have been aware of the Argentinian cartoon.
However, the judge said Furie’s comments about his ownership of the frog are disputed enough to go to trial, ruling that a jury should determine whether the frog featured in the poster was Pepe or not.
He also ruled in favor of an InfoWars request that a jury should decide on Furie’s request for damages and legal fees.“This is a case about making sure nobody is making money off Pepe the Frog,” Furie’s lawyer Louis Tompros said Friday, while Infowars’ attorney Marc Randazza said they are fighting the case as a “free speech issue.” The trial is expected to begin on July 16 in Los Angeles.
Furie successfully got Pepe the Frog pulled from the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website after his lawyers filed copyright act requests. He also settled a case against a woman who was using the frog to sell ‘hate-promoting’ oil paintings last year, and got a seemingly Islamophobic book featuring Pepe pulled in 2017.
Pepe the Frog first appeared in a 2006 comic book called ‘Boy’s Club,’ and soon featured in a host of internet memes. By the lead-up to the 2016 election, it was used in more hateful memes and increasingly by white nationalists and the far right. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) branded Pepe as a hate symbol in September 2016.