Conspiracy-promoting website Infowars will pay $15,000 to resolve a copyright infringement lawsuit over its sales of a poster featuring the image of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that was hijacked by far-right extremists and racist internet trolls.
“Infowars” show host Alex Jones on Monday signed his companies’ settlement agreement with Pepe’s creator, Matt Furie. The California-based artist said he didn’t authorise Infowars to sell a “MAGA” poster that depicts Pepe alongside images of Jones, President Donald Trump, far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos and other right-wing figures.
Louis Tompros, one of Furie’s attorneys, said the settlement amount is more than the $14,000 that Infowars made from sales of the poster. He said his client plans to donate the extra $1,000 to Save the Frogs!, a California-based conservation organization.
“This was more than we would have gotten at trial, and it saves the expense of a trial,” Tompros said.
An article posted on Infowars’ website calls it a “strategic victory” for Jones. One of his attorneys, Marc Randazza, said Furie’s lawyers had sought more than $1 million from Jones but ultimately settled for a fraction of that after a costly legal fight.
“That ought to be a message to anyone who wants to file a politically motivated, anti-free speech lawsuit against him,” Randazza said.
The settlement agreement comes less than a month after a judge’s ruling drastically limited the amount of money that Furie could recover from Infowars. U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald decided that Furie was precluded from seeking statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.
That ruled out the possibility of a six- or seven-figure judgment. Tompros said plaintiffs’ lawyers expected to ask a jury to award roughly $14,000, which represents Infowars’ profits from its sale of the poster.
The judge also refused to throw out the case last month. Infowars’ lawyers argued the poster’s depiction of Pepe was “fair use,” but Fitzgerald ruled a jury must decide that question. A jury trial for Furie’s lawsuit was scheduled to begin July 16 in Los Angeles.
The settlement agreement calls for Infowars to destroy any copies of the poster in its possession and bars the site from selling any more copies. Infowars also agreed not to sell anything else with Pepe’s likeness without a license to do so.
Infowars attorney Robert Barnes said the settlement has no confidentiality clause because Jones “wanted to tell the world” how little he is paying.
“This is an amount we would have been willing to pay from the very beginning,” Barnes added.
Furie’s “chill frog-dude” debuted in a 2006 comic book called “Boy’s Club” and became a popular canvas for benevolent internet memes. But the user-generated mutations grew increasingly hateful and ubiquitous more than a year before the 2016 presidential election, when Furie’s creation become an online mascot for white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.
The Anti-Defamation League branded Pepe as a hate symbol in September 2016 and promoted Furie’s efforts to reclaim the character. Last year, Furie resolved a separate copyright infringement lawsuit that accused a Missouri woman of misusing the character to sell hate-promoting oil paintings.
Tompros said he hopes the settlement agreement deters others from misappropriating Furie’s creation.
“If anyone thinks they’re going to make money off Pepe, they’re wrong,” he said.
Jones still faces other litigation stemming from his inflammatory words. Relatives of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre filed defamation suits against Jones after he questioned whether the shooting rampage was a hoax.
Jones livestreams his show on Infowars’ website, but he has lost access to other platforms. Twitter and Facebook have permanently banned him.