Most of us aren’t creators in the sense that what we write or doodle will end up being seen by thousands or even millions of people, and thus we can only imagine the anguish of losing control of a creation, particularly to a distasteful group of people.
You may not know his name, but you have probably heard at least part of the story of Matt Furie over the past few years. Furie is the creator of Pepe the Frog, a benign, harmless character that was nevertheless adopted as a mascot by the alt-right and neo-Nazi groups on the internet. It was surely a particularly bitter pill to swallow, seeing something you created become affiliated with some of the world’s worst people, whose toxic and nihilistic views mean they have little compunction about taking from others.
Fortunately, Furie and other creators still have copyright as a tool to fight back, although in this most recent case it’s about money rather than ideology. From Vice’s Motherboard comes reporting about how Furie went about shutting down the sale of NFTs from the Sad Frog Project, which he claims are rip-offs of Pepe the Frog and thus in violation of his copyright. According to Motherboard’s reporting, Furie and his lawyers reached out to the Sad Frogs Project on their Discord to ask them to stop ahead of the launch, a move that eventually got Furie banned from the group.
Similar attempts to communicate his desires with the project developers were rebuffed, leading Furie to eventually take the step of filing a DMCA notice with OpenSea, the NFT marketplace that was hosting the sales. Motherboard notes that this is at a time when Furie himself is getting into the NFT game with his own artwork of Pepe the Frog.
Sad Frogs District of course claims that the DMCA notice is overreach on the part of Furie and that their artwork is fair use and distinct from Pepe the Frog, although their counter-notice signed pseudonymously doesn’t really afford the opportunity to sort the matter out legally. Instead, Motherboard collects comments from moderators that lament money lost as an investment or engage in whataboutism related to Furie’s work they feel is somehow infringing on others’ IP.
It’s all deeply strange to read about and understand — not the copyright part of it so much as the internet and meme culture, where a NFT of a frog drawing could only be valuable to someone who spends way too much time online, and could be even more valuable and this worth buying to someone else who is very online and thus speaks and understands the same patois. The lesson is, I suppose, to be cautious of copyright in what you do, and maybe log off now and then.