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How cyber violations killed a cartoon frog

Earlier this year, cartoonist Matt Furie released the single-frame comic that announced the death of beloved cartoon Pepe the Frog, which he first created in 2005 in the comic book Boy's Club and which later became a popular meme. So what led to Pepe's untimely demise?

Unbeknownst to the illustrator, in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, white supremacist groups began co-opting images of Pepe and integrating him into neo-Nazi propaganda. These images sparked an angry backlash, and the Anti-Defamation League later declared Pepe to be a hate symbol -- although neither Pepe nor his creator played any role in spreading this offensive imagery. Consequently, Furie decided his best recourse was to euthanize poor Pepe.

While the death of a cartoon frog may seem like a silly story, it's an example of a type of crime that is becoming increasingly common in the era of photoshopped images pervading the internet: the violation of intellectual property law.

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind that belong to a specific person or organization, usually with a patent, copyright or trademark. Intellectual property can include:

  • Images
  • Ideas
  • Creative works
  • Inventions

When an intellectual property infraction is a cybercrime -- a crime committed on the internet -- it can be more disastrous, because a stolen image can spread through social media like wildfire.

In Matt Furie's case, the issue had gotten so out of hand -- and so many misrepresentations of his character had popped up all over the internet -- that the best way he could think of to disassociate himself and Pepe from the hate groups was to kill his character off.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. Intellectual property law prevents others from copying, using or selling your protected property without permission. In an age where it's so easy for someone else to copy and disseminate your work, it's important to understand your rights and protect your creative assets.

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