By Todd Allen
Last week, we told you about the webcomic, The Oatmeal getting sued for defamation and The Oatmeal’s hilarious response. I was also wondering what the response of the lawyer filing the suit was going to be. He’s suing the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation. Oh, yes. This just got even stranger and it’s making some waves in legal circles.
If you venture into the legal blogosphere (or “blawgs,” as they call them in legal circles) a couple of the big ones are Popehat and Lowering The Bar. Lowering the Bar could probably be described as educating about the law through the ridicule of fools. Popehat is a bit more serious, but still very irreverent and definitely concerned with issues of free speech. Both of these blogs have been all over the Oatmeal Incident like cheese on a Packer fan’s head.
Taking this chronologically, first Popehat stomps all over the claim against The Oatmeal:
It’s not going to go well for FunnyJunk. Even if the threat letter wasn’t simply stagecraft — a big assumption — they’re going to get curb-stomped in court, whether in initial motion practice or in a proctological discovery campaign waged by free-speech-supporting pro-bono lawyers (let’s just say I’m not the only one offering to help). Their lawyer has just given himself +eleventy in “censorious twatwaffle” on Klout, and the Streisand Effect is looming.
Go ahead and click on that link. Not only do you get a prominent First Amendment lawyer vouching for the lawyer in question, you also get litigious Ewoks. No, I’m serious. Litigious Ewoks.
Next, Popehat has a sort of “the shoe’s on the other foot” post about said lawyer being able to dish it, but not take it.
If this were an 80-year-old probate lawyer, I could write this off as culture shock. But in a self-described “internet lawyer,” this failure to anticipate the natural and probable consequences of such a legal threat in such a subculture was nothing less than incompetence — a grave departure below the standard of care.
The third post on the topic deals with fallout from the lawyer’s media interviews:
The implications of Mr. Carreon’s position are profoundly chilling. Under the rule he seems to suggest, if you write about bad behavior by someone else, even if you don’t urge action, you run the risk that you will be held liable when one of your readers is inspired to hack or threaten or harass. Perversely, this means that the more criminal or unconscionable or horrific the conduct you are describing, the greater legal risk you take by writing about it. That’s not the law, thank God. The very suggestion is un-American and contemptible.
Post #4 deals with the filing of the latest suit:
On Friday, June 15, 2012, attorney Charles Carreon passed from mundane short-term internet notoriety into a sort of legal cartoon-supervillainy.
He transcended typical internet infamy when he filed a federal lawsuit last Friday in the United Sates District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland. He belonged to the ages the moment he filed that lawsuit not only against Matthew Inman, proprietor of The Oatmeal, but also against IndieGoGo Inc., the company that hosted Inman’s ridiculously effective fundraiser for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.
But that level of censorious litigiousness was not enough for Charles Carreon. He sought something more. And so, on that same Friday, Charles Carreon also sued the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society, the beneficiaries of Matthew Inman’s fundraiser.
Yes. Charles Carreon, butthurt that someone had leveraged his douchebaggery into almost two hundred thousand dollars of donations to two worthy charities, sued the charities.
Ken, the proprietor of Popehat, was waiting to lay hands on the full filing before taking the gloves off, but the legal opinions in the comment section are pretty hilarious. I’ve had occasion to exchange e-mail with Ken in the past, so I can tell you in his secret identity, Ken is an LA-based lawyer, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Harvard Law alum. His opinion is not one to be taken lightly. It isn’t clear if he’s working on the defense for The Oatmeal/IndieGoGo/charities, but he’s made a pro bono offer.
So there you have it, a second lawsuit against the crowdfunding site and two charities, as well as The Oatmeal. And the fireworks are only just beginning. This one could well get stranger before it’s over. Of course, I find it particularly odd the lawyer is mad about the bear cartoon, as I was under the impression it was representing the mother of the owner of FunnyJunk, not the mother of the lawyer. I suppose art is open to interpretation.
At any rate, there will doubtless be full legal analysis of this new suit by tomorrow. In the meantime, The Oatmeal’s charity drive at Indiegogo is at $183,045 at the time of this writing.
UPDATE: ArsTechnica reports:
In a lawsuit filed Friday and made publicly available today, Carreon went after Inman, the charities, and the fundraising platform. And he revealed to the San Francisco federal court that he “is a contributor to the Bear Love campaign, and made his contribution with the intent to benefit the purposes of the NWF and the ACS.”
The donation gives Carreon standing as a contributor to make the thrust of his lawsuit about the donations (there are also a few other charges tossed in). Carreon says that Inman is operating as an illicit “commercial fundraiser” and as such should face a hosts of sanctions. (The California statute he references defines such fundraisers as doing their work “for compensation.” Inman would hardly seem to fit the bill)
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.