Comics and litigations
5:13 pm
Tue July 10, 2012

How a lawsuit over 'Oatmeal' jokes turned into $211,000 for charity

In a lawsuit centered on rude internet humor, accusations of copyright violations and a counter claim of defamation, some undeniable good has occurred:  Two national charities will split more than $211,000.

That's the amount Matthew "Oatmeal" Inman raised from fans of his Seattle-based comic website in an in-your-face game of one-upmanship against the lawyer of the collector website FunnyJunk accused of stealing his work.

Here's the story:

Over a year ago webcomic Oatmeal reported that he found hundreds of his comics hosted on FunnyJunk.com with little to no credit given and proceeded to write a blog post asking the public what to do.

Without preamble FunnyJunk took down some but not all of his material, Inman said. And, he figured to let bygones be bygones and move on.

Skip forward to June when Inman was served with a letter from Charles Carreon, a lawyer for FunnyJunk, demanding $20,000 for losses of advertisement because of criticism Inman posted to his blog.

Carreon said, according to the purported letter posted by Oatmeal, the blog post was a "false accusation of willful copyright infringement." (So far, KPLU's email to Carreon requesting an interview has not been returned.)

The letter (which appears to fret a bit over the role of a platform versus content provider a la Napster in 2000)  from Carreon states further:

“FunnyJunk hosts only user-uploaded content pursuant to a rigorous DMCA policy that includes termination as a sanction for repeat abusers ... In addition to the above-quoted false statements, on the same webpage you say that FunnyJunk has ‘practically stolen my entire website and mirrored it on FunnyJunk.’ You illustrate this present-tense statement with a screencap that purports to be current, but in fact was taken long ago, and grossly misrepresents the current state of affairs.”

Innman thumbed his nose at that threat:

"Rather than paying them $20,000," he told KPLU, "I decided I was going to start a charity fundraiser and split it between two other charities and then mail a photo of the money raised to the lawyer and FunnyJunk along with a picture of FunnyJunks's mother seducing a Kodiak bear then donate that money to charity."

Carreon upped the ante as news of the fight spread by filing the federal lawsuit against Inman, Indiegogo (the site used to raise money for charities) – and the chosen charities, The National Wildlife Federation and The American Cancer Society.

Inman didn't want a legal battle. He wanted to make funny cartoons and get on with his life, he said.

In a follow-up blog post, he explained:

"I realize that trying to police copyright infringement on the internet is like strolling into the Vietnamese jungle circa 1964 and politely asking everyone to use squirt guns. I know that if FunnyJunk disappeared fifty other clones would pop up to take its place overnight, but I felt I had to say something about what they're doing."

How the charities won

Innman called his push for charity donations "Bearlove Good. Cancer Bad." He met his goal of raising $20,000 in 64 minutes and then raised over $211,000 by the end of the fundraiser. Donations were split between the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation.

"I chose the American Cancer Society because I have a lot of readers who write to me that have been afflicted by cancer, and the National Wildlife Federation because I use bears as comic material so often that I thought it would be a good idea to donate to real bears that are endangered," Inman said.

After several arcane twists and turns in the development of the lawsuit, Carreon dropped the whole deal last week. The website Ars Technica got ahold of Carreon and reported the fallout:

"... while it may look like Carreon has come to his senses, Ars called Carreon to comment and found him declaring the lawsuit a success. "Mission Accomplished," Carreon announced on the phone with Ars.

"But even if the defendants pursue attorney's fees, the attention might be worth it for Charles Carreon. After asking for comment on his voluntary dismissal of charges, Carreon lilted over the phone, "I'm famous, I'm notorious." Which, from the looks of it, is exactly what he wants."

Inman was ecstatic that the case was dropped last week saying "from day one I didn't want to be involved in litigation, I didn't want to be sued and more importantly I don't want to sue anybody."

Inman posing in front of the cash.
Credit The Oatmeal

However, he did follow through on his threat to publish photos of the amount donated (not the actual money donated since that became part of the suit) and more ...