July 3, 2012 at 11:51 PM ET
Even I couldn't resist calling the legal fight between cartoonist Matthew "The Oatmeal" Inman and attorney Charles Carreon "bizarre" and "strange," so I'm certainly glad to see that it's coming to an end.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — a donor-funded nonprofit organization created to defend digital rights — Carreon has dropped his lawsuit against Inman, after month-long legal battle so twisted that a crowd-sourcing website, two charities, one hundred individuals listed as "John Doe," and even the California state attorney general found themselves involved.
Confused about why you should care about this at all? No worries, I won't suggest that you've been taking a nap underneath a virtual rock.
You see, freedom of speech was on the line for a while there — as it often is whenever someone's Internet activity leads to a legal mess. Should Carreon have somehow succeeded in his actions against Inman or any of the other individuals he's filed suit against, we might've all been forced to be significantly more careful about how we raise funds online and how we reply to legal threats.
But let's start from the beginning of the tale.
Even though many people don't recognize his name, 29-year-old Matthew "The Oatmeal" Inman is a popular cartoonist. You've probably seen plenty of his work — such as "10 Words You Need To Stop Misspelling," "What It's Like To Own An Apple Product," or "Cat vs Internet" — in your Facebook feed, on Twitter, or on your favorite blog at some point. It's almost impossible to avoid Inman online.
About a year ago, Inman got fed up with a website — called FunnyJunk — which had become particularly prone to re-hosting and monetizing his work. He wrote a blog post declaring that FunnyJunk had "practically stolen [his] entire website." The website's owner responded by claiming that Inman was threatening to sue him and removing any content which referenced "The Oatmeal."
But then at the beginning of June 2012, Inman was served with papers explaining that the owner of FunnyJunk was threatening to file a federal lawsuit unless Inman paid $20,000 in damages. He consulted a lawyer and sat on the letter for about a week before finally posting it online, along with his rebuttal and an explanation of what he'll do.
"I've got a better idea," he wrote. "I'm going to try and raise $20,000 in donations. I'm going to take a photo of the raised money. I'm going to mail you that photo, along with this drawing of your mom seducing a Kodiak bear. I'm going to take the money and donate one half to the National Wildlife Federation and the other half to the American Cancer Society."
Inman's fundraiser (which was dubbed "BearLove Good. Cancer Bad") was incredibly successful. He collected over $200,000 via a crowd-sourcing website called Indiegogo.
But while Inman was raising money for charity, Charles Carreon — who initially simply represented FunnyJunk — was seething.
When I reached out to Carreon on June 12, 2012, the attorney told me that he'd removed his contact information from his website due to the large number of people who'd contacted him after Inman's blog post went online.
"I really did not expect that he would marshal an army of people who would besiege my website and send me a string of obscene emails," he said.
Carreon filed a lawsuit on his own behalf, against Inman, the charities he was raising funds for and more. He wanted to freeze the funds and to silence the criticism of his actions.
EFF's Kurt Opsahl broke down the situation in a blog post, describing Carreon's initial legal threat — the one which inspired the charity fundraiser — "baseless" before proceeding to explain just how "outrageous" the attorney's latest legal demand was. At this point, the EFF teamed up with Inman's attorney Venkat Balasubramani to fight Carreon's lawsuit.
On Tuesday evening, a blog post on EFF's website explained that Carreon dropped his "bogus" lawsuit against Inman.
"Matthew Inman spoke out against Carreon's threat of a frivolous lawsuit, in a very popular and very public way," the post quoted Opsahl as saying. "This was nothing more than a meritless attempt to punish Inman for calling attention to his legal bullying. We called him out on this in our briefs, so it's no surprise that Carreon was left with no choice but to dismiss."
"We're very pleased that Carreon has seen that his lawsuit had no merit, and hope that this is the end of his abuse of the legal system," EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry was quoted as adding.
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