Last week, I mentioned the fact that Matthew Inman, author of the hugely popular humor site The Oatmeal, had been threatened by a lawyer for a site called FunnyJunk.com after Inman dared to complain that FunnyJunk had copied and reposted many of his original cartoons without giving him any credit. The site's attorney, Charles Carreon, wrote Inman a nasty letter claiming that Inman's charges were false, and threatening to sue for defamation unless Inman immediately paid him $20,000.
He really should have known better.
Inman did not pay him $20,000. Instead, he posted the nastygram on The Oatmeal, after annotating it with some hilariously illustrated responses, and declared that rather than paying Carreon/FunnyJunk $20,000, he would try to raise that much money, send Carreon a picture of it and then donate it to charity instead. At the time I posted about this (June 12), Inman had already raised $120,414. As of today (June 17), it was up to $176,960.
Ken at Popehat.com has also been following this story. As I've mentioned before, Ken is not someone you want taking an interest in your conduct if you are a censorious asshat. His more detailed posts on the saga are here (June 12), calling Carreon's letter "frivolous" and praising Inman's response; here (June 13); and then here (Friday, June 15), on the latest developments. According to Carreon, who has given interviews to Forbes and MSNBC, he has been flooded with critical emails and subjected to hacking attempts as a result of his letter to Inman. Or, as he sees it, as a result of Inman's disclosure of his letter. Apparently, Carreon accuses Inman of instigating all this, of which, so far as I know, there is no evidence at all, and has been threatening to sue him for that.
As Ken wrote in his post on Friday, this is a bogus threat, partly because the First Amendment protects speech—even speech that advocates violence—unless it is "intended to create, and likely to create, a clear and present danger of imminent lawless action." See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). (This is one reason it is so plainly unconstitutional to prosecute people for mere speech supposedly offering "material support" to terrorist groups, but I digress.) So, while those who are harassing and/or hacking Carreon probably are breaking the law—so don't do that—Inman certainly was not doing that by complaining publicly about Carreon's behavior, or making fun of him, or even by drawing a cartoon showing a fictional version of Carreon's mom FunnyJunk's mom having sex with a bear. As Ken wrote, if just writing about bad behavior could make you liable for something a third party may be inspired to do without your knowledge, then the worse the behavior was, the less would be written about it, and so the more protection it would effectively get.
A much more detailed analysis of the underlying issues (defamation, Lanham Act, etc.) was provided by Inman's lawyer, Venkat Balasubramani, in this response letter he wrote to Carreon on Thursday. It is worth reading for several reasons, if you are interested either in the law or in how to write a firm but totally professional letter that is pretty much free of legalese. He patiently explains why there is no merit to the claims, doesn't make any angry threats, but simply states that his client will not be bullied. He reminds Carreon that "the Internet does not like censorship and does not react kindly to it," something that Carreon should know by now if he didn't already. "At the end of the day," he concludes, "a lawsuit against The Oatmeal in this situation is just a really bad idea."
And so of course Carreon filed one on Friday.
The complaint is apparently not available yet on PACER, but my Courthouse News Service report said it was filed, and the court's feed of newly filed cases confirms that.
According to the summary provided by CNS, and again I stress I haven't seen the actual complaint yet, Carreon has sued for "trademark infringement and incitement to cyber-vandalism," and he has not only sued Inman but also the website through which he has been raising money for charity (IndieGogo.com) and the charities to which Inman has pledged the money. Yes, he is apparently also suing the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. The summary says Inman's request for donations "purports to raise money" for these organizations, "but was really designed to revile plaintiff and his client, FunnyJunk.com .…" (As you can divine from that, Carreon is representing himself here.) Looking forward to seeing the complaint for many reasons, but especially to find out how the charities are supposedly to blame for any of this.
Additional commentary by Ken here. We compared notes on this, and have offered to help if any of the defendants need it. They may not need legal help, but you can also help by donating, either through the IndieGoGo site or directly to the charities involved. Again, do NOT "help" by harassing or hacking anybody. Just support the good guys.
More to come, we promise, as soon as we get ahold of the complaint.