Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe the Frog, struck back against a self-published children's book that depicted Pepe as an Islamophobic, alt-right champion on a mission to make his farm great again.
Thanks to Louis Tompros and Don Steinberg—intellectual property lawyers at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP—Furie has reached a settlement with The Adventures of Pepe and Pede author Eric Hauser. That settlement prevents further sale of the book and forces Hauser to donate all profits to a Muslim-American advocacy group.
Tompros and Steinberg reached out to Hauser after his book made headlines earlier this month and were immediately contacted by the author's lawyer. Hauser admitted up front that he had infringed Furie's copyright. "Mr. Hauser admitted it," Tompros said. "There's no question it was copyright infringement. [We] were able to negotiate [settlement] over the course of just a few days."
Under the terms of the settlement, Hauser will have to turn over all his profits from the self-published book. "It wasn't much," Tompros said, just $1,521.54.
"But Furie does not want money made by peddling hateful themes to children," read a press release from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. "Instead, per the agreement—and at Furie's insistence—Hauser will be required to give all of his profits to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
"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."
Hauser was an assistant principal at a North Texas middle school when the book hit the market, but Denton Independent School District officials removed him from his post amid the controversy. As of this publication, his new position is yet to be determined.
Teachers and parents in Hauser's community were concerned over the contents of the book, which depicts Pepe and Pede fighting with a bearded alligator named Alkah, a seeming allusion to Allah. The alligator's minions are pink creatures covered in mud that look similar to women in burqas.
Hauser denied claims he was Islamophobic and a member of the alt-right but my reporting showed that Hauser used a web cartoon of women in burqas as the model for Alkah's minions. The artist Hauser commissioned to illustrate the book—Ukrainian freelancer Nina Khalova—gave me early design documents that indicated Hauser wanted the alligator to have a full, bushy beard and wear a robe. He also instructed Khalova to copy Furie's original designs of Pepe the Frog directly.
According to Furie's lawyers, those documents made the copyright infringement case a slam dunk. "There's an image in which Mr. Hauser specifically requests a copy of a picture that looks to be taken from a "how to draw Pepe the Frog" website," Tompros told me.
"It was all the more reason it was indicative of—not just infringement—but infringement that was intentional. [This was] the rare case when you actually establish direct evidence of deliberate copying," Steinberg told me.
Tompros and Steinberg worked the case pro-bono. "It's an important issue," Tompros said. "The frog symbol has gotten appropriated by the alt-right and used for some very hateful and nasty purposes. There's the Richard Spencer interview that went viral where he was advocating white supremacy and got punched in the face. He was doing that in the course of explaining with Pepe meant."
Hauser wasn't the only person involved in publishing the book. Days after he self-published The Adventures of Pepe and Pede on Amazon, Post HIll Press picked it up for a wide release. A few days ago, the controversial children's book disappeared from Amazon and Post Hill's upcoming releases. Tompros attempted to bring them to the table to talk, but never made contact.
"We tried several times to get confirmation about whether they were trying to publish the book or not and never got a straight answer before engaging with Mr. Hauser's lawyer," Tompros told me.
"We are publishing the book in hardcover on November 7, 2017," Devon Brown of Post Hill Press told me via email on August 14. "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."
Furie didn't want to comment directly. "He's been really disheartened by the whole thing," Tompros said. "He has a child [and] seeing his character used in a nasty, hateful way towards children was particularly a problem. I think he was, and is, happy that we've reached a result that addresses this particular problem. I think he is still disheartened by the way Pepe is being used in the media and is willing and able to respond to that aggressively. That's his plan. He doesn't want his rights and pepe to be used and misused by the alt-right."
Post Hill Press, Eric Hauser, and Denton Independent School District did not immediately respond to request for comment on this story.