Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character created by comic book artist Matt Furie in the mid-2000’s, started out innocently enough. According to an interview given by Furie to the Daily Dot, Pepe’s philosophy on life was simply “feels good man.” Unfortunately for Pepe, however, he became an internet meme thanks to the notorious 4Chan message board. While some of the memes have maintained the laid back philosophy originally espoused by Pepe, it appears that the character has been adopted as a symbol of the “alt-right.” Consequently, many Pepe the Frog memes contain overtly political messages, which are perceived by many as highly offensive or even racist.
Kansas City artist Jessica Logsdon appears to have capitalized on the Pepe phenomenon, and began creating, and selling on-line, politically charged artwork featuring a green frog with a striking resemblance to Pepe. Furie, the original creator of Pepe, has sued in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, alleging copyright infringement and seeking damages and injunctive relief against Logsdon. The Complaint alleges that Pepe was originally a “peaceful frog dude,” but that:
“[I]ndividuals like Logsdon have misused Furie’s Pepe character and copied Pepe’s images for use in dozens of images sold online to promote violent and hateful messages espoused by alt-right fringe groups. In doing so, Logsdon not only copies Furie’s original creation, but also freeloaded off Pepe’s popularity and Furie’s labor.”
Logsdon has answered the Complaint, admitting that she is a “political artist,” and that she has used “Pepe” in the title of some of her artwork. But she denies that she has copied the image created by Furie, while simultaneously claiming that her use of the image constitutes “fair use.” Logsdon also claims that Furie lacks any registered copyright in the image of Pepe the Frog.
Beyond its obvious socio-political angles, the case has wider legal ramifications as well, and we will observe with interest how Pepe the Frog’s meme status plays into the claims and defenses asserted by the parties. We will continue to monitor the case and provide updates in this space.