Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie forces NFT collection featuring frog offline

Cartoonist Matt Furie recently launched his own NFT set featuring the famous frog.
Cartoonist Matt Furie recently launched his own NFT set featuring the famous frog. Photo credit: Supplied

Pepe the Frog, the cartoon character that became a symbol of the alt-right before it was reclaimed by its creator, is at the centre of a new online storm - this time involving millions of dollars.

Cartoonist Matt Furie had successfully managed to get an alt-right children's book featuring the laid-back amphibian pulled, as well as forcing neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to withdraw all Pepe images.

And now a new non-fungible token (NFT) set featuring variations on the frog's design has been forced out of an online marketplace after Furie sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request.

OpenSea, a popular trading website for NFTs, took down Sad Frogs District last week after the request from Furie. The project's website is also offline.

Sad Frogs District is made up of 7000 cartoon frog images, each unique, which were traded for around US$4 million in the seven days it was active on the marketplace, according to data from NFT Stats.

NFTs have surged in popularity in 2021, with a digital artwork selling for nearly US$70 million and a Cryptopunk, one of a series of 10,000 pixelated punk-related images sold for US$11.8 million.

In the last 24 hours, according to NFT stats, US $126 million worth of NFTs have been traded.

But the administrators of Sad Frogs District's Discord channel - an online chat forum where the project could be discussed - have lashed out at Furie, criticising his "overreach and his lack of support for artistic freedom".

"He clearly wanted to shut down the project for monetary reasons," said Kronos, one of the moderators.

"We all believe that Sad Frogs are sufficiently distinct from Pepes and as a result [Furie] deserves no compensation. Nobody owns the right to solely meme an entire natural species."

One of Furie's lawyers, Louis Tompros, said the cartoonist had tried to engage with the project leads ahead of its launch, asking for it to be discontinued.

He also asked for an invite to the Discord channel but was told "we are a little afraid that you will enter our server and cause chaos and panic", according to Vice's Motherboard.

OpenSea's head of product, Nate Chastain, said the marketplace was legally obligated to take the content down, but the other party could file a counter notice.

And, according to Tompros, Sad Frogs District did send a counter-notice, but with a weird twist - they signed it Vladimir Vladimirovich, "the first and middle names of Vladimir Putin, and didn't provide an actual mailing address".

That means it cannot be actioned as US copyright law doesn't recognise anonymity in these types of requests.

Furie, meanwhile, auctioned off an early cartoon of Pepe for 420 ethereum, worth around US$1 million at the time of sale in April.

He has also launched his own NFT project called PEGZ, featuring unique designs including Pepe and variations of the frog - one of which recently sold for over US$800,000.