In the latest salvo in an ongoing war over the soul of a cartoon frog, Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has reached a settlement with a former middle school assistant principal who published a children's book using the alt-right-appropriated version of the character. Under the terms of the settlement, Pepe and Pede will no longer be sold and all of author Eric Hauser's profits from the book will be donated to the Muslim advocacy charity Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Pepe, whom Furie created as a “peaceful, chilled out frog” more than 10 years ago on his MySpace comic strip Boy's Club, has in the last few years been co-opted by by the white nationalist "alt-right" movement. In 2016, as Pepe memes went mainstream during the U.S. presidential election cycle, the Anti-Defamation League went so far as to name Pepe a hate symbol. Furie has labored to reclaim Pepe's image, first killing him in Fantagraphics' Free Comic Book Day issue, then launching a Kickstarter to #SavePepe, which raised nearly $35,000.
It should have surprised no one, then, that Furie threatened to sue Hauser upon learning of his plans for Pepe and Pede, which Hauser self-published on Amazon on Aug. 1. Conservative publisher Post Hill Press then signed Hauser's book, planning a hardcover release for November.
"Mr. Hauser admitted it," Louis Tompros, one of Furie's lawyers, told Motherboard. "There's no question it was copyright infringement." They were able to reach a settlement "in a matter of days," with all of Hauser's profits, totalling $1,521.54, going to CAIR. Last week, Hauser resigned under pressure from Rodriguez Middle School in Oak Point, following his earlier removal from the position of assistant principal, according to the Dallas News.
Furie did not comment directly on the situation, as Tompros described him as "disheartened by the whole thing." "Furie wants one thing to be clear: Pepe the Frog does not belong to the alt-right," Tompros said. "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."
Though the case of the children's book was a "slam dunk," in Tompros' words, it is of course much harder to challenge the much more anonymous appropriation of Pepe that takes place throughout the internet. Nevertheless, such a resounding victory feels good, man.