In a court deposition obtained by Motherboard, Infowars’s Alex Jones claimed Pepe the Frog was more than just a cartoon frog.
“[Pepe the Frog] is a symbol of free speech,” Jones said. “There’s now a movement to try to then control and own symbols that have entered the public domain and public use….and so now I see it as basically a tombstone of free speech and fair use in the Western world. So I see it for what it is, from the perspective of the corporate fascists.”
Last year, Jones was sued by Pepe the Frog artist Matt Furie for allegedly infringing Furie’s copyright on the cartoon frog by putting Pepe on a poster that Infowars was selling. Jones is fighting the case. The court documents are part of a 159- page deposition given on December 18, 2018 as part of the case, and is embedded below.
Furie originally created Pepe as a chill frog who spreads love, but internet fascists and assorted reactionaries appropriated the frog as a symbol of white nationalism in the run up to the 2016 election.
Moments before the impassioned speech, Jones admitted that, at first, he didn’t understand the cartoon frog at all. “I get most memes,” Jones said. “But I just didn’t understand [Pepe the Frog.]” Much of the deposition consists of Jones alternating between saying that he doesn’t care much about Pepe and discussing the finer points of the frog, like noting that his forehead looks “like a butt.” At one point, Jones says that if he loses the case, it would be “like [being made to make] a payment to the Statue of Liberty or something when we’re talking about liberty.”
Jones is the last standing defendant in a series of lawsuits filed by Furie in recent years. After a Texas educator released an Islamophobic children's book starring Pepe in 2017, Furie began enforcing his copyright. By that time Alt-right personalities such as Baked Alaska, Mike Cernovich, and Jones were selling Pepe-branded merchandise, and Furie put them on notice. As the cease and desist letters rolled out, most Pepe copyright abusers relented. Even the notoriously grotesque Neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer scrubbed the Pepe’s from its website. Only Alex Jones and Infowars promised to fight on.
At the time Furie began to enforce his copyright, Infowars was selling a poster depicting several personalities from the 2016 election—including Kellyanne Conway, Roger Stone, and Pepe the Frog. Furie’s lawyers—the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP—formally asked Infowars to remove the poster from its store. It refused, altered the price of the poster from $19.95 to $17.76 and then $29.95, and promised to fight against Furie on free speech grounds. WilmerHale filed a lawsuit against Infowars on March 7, 2018.
Jones said that the poster was an extremely unpopular item on the Infowars store. He said that he asked Infowars to "jack the price up" after he was sued, because he thought people would want to buy it if they thought they were defending free speech. It didn't work.
"It's in thousands of newspapers, and people wouldn't buy it. This is like the trash you can't get the trash man to pick up," he said. "
In the wide-ranging deposition, Jones compared his use of Pepe the Frog to artist Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell’s soup cans and claimed people were accusing him of being a white supremacist because of his defense of the use of Pepe. “It's a way of saying I'm a white supremacist,” Jones said. “So it's a way of defaming me and acting like I stole something all at the same time. It's just, God, I don't know how people sleep at night. It's amazing.”
Both Infowars and WilmerHale filed summary judgments for dismissal of the case on April 8, 2019. These documents are essentially written arguments for the dismissal of the case. Infowars continues to claim its Pepe poster falls under fair use. WilmerHale and Furie say they’re enforcing an existing copyright. A judge will hear these arguments on May 6 and decide whether or not to proceed with a planned trial date of July 16.
Infowars used its summary judgments to request the dismissal of the entire trial. WilmerHale used its summary judgment to argue against some of Infowars claims, but Furie’s lawyers want to go to trial.
“We would be perfectly happy to get the remedies we’re entitled to without going to trial, but we’re also perfectly happy to try the case,” Louis Tompros, one of Furie’s lawyers, told me over the phone. “Infowars is claiming fair use as a matter of fact. We think they’re wrong and are not entitled to a finding of fair use, but we get that there’s a factual dispute about that that has to be resolved by a judge and a jury.”