First Matt Furie killed his troubled meme-hijacked creation, Pepe the Frog. Then he crowdfunded the cartoon amphibian’s resurrection. Now he’s sending an army of lawyers to clean Pepe’s image and remove unauthorized versions of him off the internet. Will these latest legal efforts end the saga of Pepe as an “alt-right” icon once and for all? Or will this all result in just another case of the Streisand Effect?
Lawyers representing Furie have sent cease-and-desist letters to a number of prominent far right figures and groups—including Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer, and the Donald Trump subreddit—as well as Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Amazon regarding the sale of certain products containing the Pepe image.
The legal precedent that might have encouraged Furie and his lawyers to move forward with this “sweep” of unofficial Pepe usage was the recent settlement reached with Eric Hauser, a creator of a children’s book which basically (kind of literally) used Pepe’s image and name. Hauser was forced to to stop selling The Adventures of Pepe and Pede and donate the from the profits he had already made from the book to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But can Furie’s lawyers successfully go against a meme?
I think that the cartoonist has every right to protect the rights to his character. In fact, he should have probably been proactive on this front way sooner (his trademark for Pepe had apparently expired on October 2016—not a deal-breaker in terms of him asserting his copyright, because they are two different things, but not awesome either).
But the other side of the coin is: I personally feel that every time you “feed” this particular meme with (negative)attention…it gets stronger. This was Hillary Clinton’s catastrophic mistake by canonizing Pepe as the symbol of The Deplorables, and I think every time the meme is dealt with in this way it only increases its potency.
Because ultimately…the core “internet Pepe,” as opposed to Furie’s Pepe, is a symbol of rebellion, taboo, and chaos of the “watching the world burn” variety. And I think you deal with that—if you are so inclined to deal with it at all—by deconstructing its meaning and taking the time to really understand how symbols retain and attract power. Or by ignoring it completely.
Maybe the “dividing line,” in terms of how successful Furie will be with this legal initiative, is the question as to whether or not individuals are making actual $ off of Pepe. And perhaps the legal precedents set by this case will impact the original “authors/creators” of other memes, who will in turn assert their “rights” over their “intellectual property”; and won’t that be interesting?
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You Created A Joke Religion And It Became Real. Now What?