Eric Hauser, a former Denton ISD administrator who resigned last week, has admitted to copyright infringement for his use of a Pepe the Frog character in his book, The Adventures of Pepe and Pede.
Matt Furie, the artist who created Pepe the Frog in the early 2000s for a web comic series, threatened to sue Hauser unless he shut down distribution of the book, according to a press release from Furie's attorneys at WilmerHale law firm.
Upon its release on Aug. 1, the book was perceived by many to be anti-Muslim and included many phrases used on white supremacist social media websites. The Pepe cartoon itself gained prominence during the presidential election as a symbol of a racist movement described as the "alt-right."
To avoid a lawsuit, Hauser agreed to stop distribution of his book, which was previously picked up by Post Hill Press. He also is required to donate all profits from sales to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
"As this action shows, Furie will aggressively enforce his intellectual property, using legal action if necessary, to end the misappropriation of Pepe the Frog in any way that espouses racism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Nazism, or any other form of hate," the press release said.
Hauser didn't respond to a request for comment on Monday, but previously said he didn't know Pepe was tied to white supremacists and does not align himself with the alt-right movement. He told The Dallas Morning News he wrote the book to fill a conservative void in children's literature with themes focused on honesty, teamwork and patriotism.
However, documents from the book's illustrator, Nina Khalova, show that Hauser was aware the Pepe cartoon already existed. In a project description Hauser sent to Khalova in June, the author included an image of Pepe the Frog and wrote, "I want The Frog to look very similar to this frog. He will wear a blue shirt."
Khalova, a Ukrainian-based illustrator, said she didn't know about the controversy surrounding Pepe.
"I didn't even imagine that the Frog and Centipede [Pede] could be turned into these horrible things," she said in an email.
Hauser previously was picked to be an assistant principal at the newly opened Rodriguez Middle School in Oak Point, but was removed from his post before the school year started. District spokesman Mario Zavala said Hauser originally asked for reassignment within Denton ISD, but resigned from the district last week.
Mohammed Fouad, the imam at the Denton Islamic Center, agreed that the book is Islamophobic and said it isn't welcome in his mosque. He asked his 11-year-old daughter what she thought of the book when she read it. The girl immediately associated the bearded alligator villain, Alkah, with Allah, the Muslim word for God.
"If a child reads this, what will they think?" Fouad said. "To take these ideals into a classroom is wrong. Hatred shouldn't be taught."
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.
FEATURED PHOTO: Eric Hauser, a former Denton ISD administrator who self-published a children's book, The Adventures of Pepe and Pede, has admitted to copyright infringement for the use of the main character, Pepe the Frog. Matt Furie, the artist who created Pepe the Frog in the early 2000s for a web comic series, threatened to sue Hauser unless he shut down distribution of the book.
Tailyr Irvine/The Dallas Morning News