Illustrator wins settlement to reclaim Pepe the Frog from alt-right

Illustrator wins settlement to reclaim Pepe the Frog from alt-right

An illustrator has shut down the distribution of a controversial American children's book, The Adventures of Pepe and Pede by Eric Hauser (Post Hill Press), on grounds it used his "peaceful frog-dude" character to espouse "racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes".

Comic book artist Matt Furie took Hauser to court after his creation, Pepe the Frog, was seen to be co-opted as a symbol for the right-wing "alt-right" movement in a book that infringed his intellectual property. 

The originally self-published book, released more widely with US publisher Post Hill Press on 1st August through Amazon US, showed Pepe and his chum, a caterpillar named Pede, set on making their farm "great again" (invoking rhetoric used by Donald Trump) while pitting the two against a bearded alligator villain named “Alkah" (interpretted as a reference to Allah), prompting Furie to enforce his intellectual property rights for the first time. 

The Pepe the Frog illustration, originally created in 2005 for Furies' own comic Boy's Club, took off as an internet meme in 2014 because of his character's laid-back attitude and catchphrase ("feels good man"). But, according to Furie's lawyers at Wilmerhale, by 2015 the character started appearing in "hateful depictions associated with the alt-right, including alongside white supremacist language and symbols and other offensive imagery". 

Furie responded by attempting to end the association, last year initiating a #SavePepe kickstarter campaign for a new zine to restore what Pepe stands for, and eventually resorting to killing off the character.  

The settlement, after Hauser swiftly admitted to IP infringement, means the book in question is now banned from sale. Its author, who also recently lost his job as assistant principal at a North Texas middle school over its publication, must donate proceeds to date to the Muslim civil rights advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations too.

According to Motherboard, Furie's lawyer Louis Tompros said after of the result: "There's no question it was copyright infringement. [We] were able to negotiate [settlement] over the course of just a few days.

"Furie wants one thing to be clear: Pepe the Frog does not belong to the alt-right. As this action shows, Furie will aggressively enforce his intellectual property, using legal action if necessary, to end the misappropriation of Pepe the Frog in any way that espouses racism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Nazism, or any other form of hate. He will make sure that no one profits by using Pepe in alt-right propaganda—and particularly not by targeting children."

Post Hill Press, the US publisher behind the book, defended itself earlier this month (14th August) responding to the Motherboard in an email: "We do know that some are trying to make Pepe and Pede controversial, but we do not consider it to be...we find that concern completely unfounded. It's unfortunate that an educator who has written a book that uplifts the virtues of truth and honesty has received such scrutiny."

The press, distributed by S&S US, continues to publish books including Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps and colouring books celebrating Donald Trump. The Trump Colouring Book depicts the president as a superman children can colour in (strapline: “Let’s Make Coloring Great Again!”). The blurb for a second colouring book, President Donald Trump, A Patriot’s Coloring Book, meanwhile reads "You can color in such moments as when Trump was sworn in on Inauguration Day, as he salutes our servicemen and women, signs an executive order, and takes care of North Korea—once and for all". 

Post Hill Press has been contacted for comment.