The FunnyJunk/Oatmeal Debacle Becomes a Lawsuit

The Oatmeal LogoFeel free to mark this date on your calendar. Today, June 18th, 2012 I, Jonathan Bailey, have been rendered speechless (at least briefly).

News came out today that, on Friday the 15th, attorney Charles Carreon filed suit against Matt Inman, creator of The Oatmeal webcomic series, Indiegogo and two charities, namely the National Wildlife Fund and the American Cancer Society, a move that has even me struggling to write neutral and detailed commentary (which is why I won’t this time).

Though I covered the Oatmeal/FunnyJunk dispute in much greater detail previously, I’ll do my best to recap it quickly.

About a year ago, The Oatmeal and FunnyJunk had a war of words that was initiated by Inman, who was frustrated that his comics were routinely appearing on FunnyJunk without permission or, in many cases, attribution. Earlier this month, nearly 10 months after the first war of words, Carreon sent a letter of behalf of FunnyJunk demanding removal of allegedly defamatory comments made during that spat and payment of some $20,000.

Inman balked at this and, instead, started up an Indiegogo fundraiser to raise the money, that would then be donated to both of the charities listed above. Inman also promised to take a photo of the money before donating it and send that photo, along with a salacious and comical drawing of Inman’s mother trying to seduce a bear.

The campaign was a hit and raised some $180,000 in about a week, more than 9 times the original target. However, Carreon wasn’t pleased with the attention and first sought to get the Indiegogo camapign shuttered as a violation of their terms of service and the, on Friday, filed a lawsuit against everyone involved, even if that involvement was in name only and not action (as with the charities).

The result of this is that, in less than a month, Carreon has gone from being a relatively unknown attorney that had worked on a major case in the past (the domain case), to being known for threatening the Oatmeal, to being the attorney that tried to get a donation campaign shut down and now to the guy who is actively suing two charities because he didn’t like how his name was being used online.

That, in a word, is insane.

I’ve been following copyright news for 12 years and have been actively running Plagiarism Today for 7. The only incident I can recall comes close to this level of outrageousness was a 2007 email exchange between attorneys that resulted in one challenging the other to a street fight. That dispute, which was over a DVD rental service, did not end in an actual lawsuit.

What Carreon is failing to realize is that, as legally weak as his case is, the court of law stopped being the most important court in this matter a long time ago. When Inman took the first letter public and launched the Indiegogo campaign, the matter was out in the court of public opinion and the Streisand Effect was in full force.

However, rather than separating out the legal issues from Inman’s showmanship, he decided to fight against the publicity and, in doing so, guaranteed that things would be made worse. Mr. Carreon, judging from this lawsuit, took things personally and, in response, is now taking things to a whole new level, a level that virtually guarantees he will have no sympathizers, no defenders and where the damage to his reputation will likely be permanent. It’s to a point where, even if he did win, it would be a pyrrhic victory.

But while I’m upset that these charities will have time and resources diverted away from their core causes (even with pro bono legal help a lawsuit is still a distraction) I’m also concerned about Mr. Carreon himself.

I admit openly that I am a person who enjoys a good fight. I didn’t get into my field because I’m scared of conflict. I’m known for being quick to anger, quicker still to hold my ground and very slow to let it go. I can think of many times in my life I’ve held on to battles too long and said/done things in anger that I later regretted.

However, Mr. Carreon has taken things past a point that any reasonable person would and has involved third parties that did not need to be involved. His approach to the matter, so far at least, has been limited to escalation and now the matter is completely out of control. Not in my wildest moments of rage could I imagine doing something this irrational.

Now, attorneys are lining up to give pro bono help to Inman, Indiegogo and the charities and Carreon has reignited the wrath of the Web, guaranteeing that this issue will not die down any time soon. These are not the actions of a man who is thinking clearly and understand what it is he is fighting.

In short, no matter what happens from here on, Carreon can not win. He has already lost. Any victory he does get will be hollow. My hope is that Mr. Carreon will calm down, realize his predicament and start working to rebuild what he destroyed.

However, that seems unlikely.

When you’ve gone this far down the path, it’s more or less impossible to stop. Carreon has declared total war and he’s done so against an enemy that can destroy him easily. Right or wrong, at least in the legal sense, doesn’t enter into it.

Hopefully he’ll realize that before it’s completely too late.

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