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In 2011, Matthew Inman, an internet cartoonist and author of the popular cartoon and website The Oatmeal, posted a public complaint on his blog. Basically, Inman was frustrated that the website Funnyjunk.com had taken several of his copyrighted comics and hosted them on its website without attribution and often with his website URL photoshopped out of the image. All the while, Funnyjunk generated advertising revenue from the hits Inman’s comics generated. In all, Inman found over 900 comics that Funnyjunk purportedly stole. He also found other copyrighted materials from well-known internet and print cartoons, including Calvin and Hobbes, Cyanide & Happiness, Dilbert, and XKCD.
In response, Funnyjunk took down some of Inman’s comics—the ones with “oatmeal” in the title. But to Inman’s frustration, the bulk of his work remained posted on the site.
On June 2, 2012, having let the matter rest for almost a year, Inman received a letter from attorney Charles Carreon demanding immediate removal of “false statements about FunnyJunk from TheOatmeal.com.” In the letter, Funnyjunk threatens to sue Inman for defamation and for false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act. Among other demands, the letter directs Inman to pay $20,000 to FunnyJunk.
Inman’s response, of course, was to make the letter public, mock it, and post a list of hundreds of links to his work on Funnyjunk’s website. He also set out to raise $20,000 to give to charity. He’s already raised more than $100,000.
It should be obvious what would happen when a beloved internet cartoonist was victimized by a demand letter from an attorney once that letter was made public: the attorney’s inbox was flooded with a barrage of angry messages. “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,” Carreon told MSNBC. Carreon’s next move, to try to get Inman’s charity fundraiser shut down, isn’t likely to calm the “mob,” Carreon’s term for the people emailing him. While there doesn’t seem to be a salient legal point to draw from all this legal posturing, we can at least say one thing: it sure is comical.
- Joel Slater
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