Conspiracy-promoting website Infowars will pay 15,000 US dollars to resolve a copyright infringement lawsuit over its sales of a poster featuring an image of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that was hijacked by far-right extremists and racist internet trolls.
Infowars show host Alex Jones has signed a settlement agreement on behalf of his companies with Pepe’s creator, Matt Furie.
he California-based artist said he did not authorise Infowars to sell a “MAGA” poster that depicts Pepe alongside images of Mr Jones, US president Donald Trump, far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos and other right-wing figures.
Louis Tompros, one of Mr Furie’s lawyers, said the settlement amount is more than the 14,000 dollars that Infowars made from sales of the poster.
He said his client plans to donate the extra 1,000 dollars to Save the Frogs!, a California-based conservation organisation.
Mr Tompros said: “This was more than we would have gotten at trial, and it saves the expense of a trial.”
An article posted on Infowars’ website called the settlement a “strategic victory” for Mr Jones.
One of his attorneys, Marc Randazza, said Mr Furie’s lawyers had sought more than one million dollars from Mr 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 (Mr Jones),” Mr Randazza said.
The settlement agreement comes less than a month after a judge’s ruling drastically limited the amount of money that Mr Furie could recover from Infowars.
US district judge Michael Fitzgerald decided that Mr Furie was precluded from seeking statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.
That ruled out the possibility of a six- or seven-figure judgment.
Mr Tompros said plaintiffs’ lawyers expected to ask a jury to award roughly 14,000 dollars, 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 judge Fitzgerald ruled a jury must decide that question.
A jury trial for Mr 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 licence to do so.
Infowars lawyer Robert Barnes said the settlement has no confidentiality clause because Mr 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,” Mr Barnes added.
Mr Furie’s “chill frog-dude” character made its debut in a 2006 comic book called Boy’s Club, and became a popular canvas for benevolent internet memes.
However, internet user-generated mutations grew increasingly hateful and ubiquitous more than a year before the 2016 presidential election, when Mr 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 Mr Furie’s efforts to reclaim the character.
Last year, Mr Furie resolved a separate copyright infringement lawsuit that accused a Missouri woman of misusing the character to sell hate-promoting oil paintings.
Mr Tompros said he hopes the settlement agreement deters others from misappropriating Mr Furie’s creation.
“If anyone thinks they’re going to make money off Pepe, they’re wrong,” he said.
Mr Jones livestreams his show on Infowars’ website, but he has lost access to other platforms. Twitter and Facebook have permanently banned him.