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The Ongoing Legal Kerfuffle at The Oatmeal

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The Oatmeal logoHave you been following what’s been happening with Matt Inman’s comedy website The Oatmeal?

Settle in, because this is quite a ride.

Last year, Inman posted (note that content on The Oatmeal contains strong language) “What Should I Do About Funnyjunk?” asking his readers for advice concerning the practices of one Funnyjunk, a content aggregator; if you’re not up on this lingo, a content aggregator is a website that gathers content from other websites and publishes it on its own.

Inman, according to his post, didn’t like that his original content was being put up on Funnyjunk without his permission or proper attribution or that, he alleged, Funnyjunk was benefiting from his content via advertising money.

At that point, according to an update published by Inman at The Oatmeal, Funnyjunk’s administrator mobilized the site’s fanbase, which sent Inman thousands of not-so-nice messages. Funnyjunk removed the comics, but others remained, so Inman created another list and asked for their removal.

All’s good, right? Well. . .

Within the past few weeks, about a year after that initial exchange, FunnyJunk’s attorney Charles Carreon sent a letter to Inman threatening a defamation lawsuit if Inman did not forward $20,000 to Funnyjunk and remove references to Funnyjunk from The Oatmeal.

At this point, Inman didn’t turn to a lawyer for a response; instead, he posted the letter at his site, making extensive fun of it, and began a project on IndieGoGo, a crowdfunding site that takes a certain percentage of funds raised in exchange for hosting fundraising projects. Inman’s project is “BearLove Good. Cancer Bad,” and the project’s description reads, in part:

Instead of mailing the owner of FunnyJunk the money, I’m going to send the above drawing of his mother.  I’m going to try and raise $20,000 and instead send it to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.

As of this writing, with six days left in the campaign, Inman has crushed his initial $20,000 goal, raising over $200,000 for the charities in question.

Cue attorney Charles Carreon, who has now on his own behalf and not as a representative of Funnyjunk, sued not only Inman, but also IndieGoGo, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), calling Inman’s actions against him “Internet jihad.”

The complaint alleges that it is a violation of California law for Inman and IndieGoGo to solicit on behalf of charitable organizations in California without filing the appropriate registrations, disclosures, and reports. Carreon also claims that the ACS and the NFW have “failed to perform their statutory duty to exercise authority over the Bear Love [sic] campaign.”

Moreover, Carreon alleges that Inman’s intention with the BearLove campaign was to “initiate a campaign of ‘trolling’ and cybervandalism against [his legal adversaries] which has borne abundant toxic results, including criminal misconduct by Inman’s Internet followers against Plaintiff in the form of repeated events of computer hacking and false personation. . . .”

There is also an allegation of trademark violation by Inman or “Doe I” (allegedly “incited by Inman”), who Carreon claims registered the Twitter account “@Charles_Carreon” and has commenced “fake” tweeting under that name; Carreon maintains that he owns the trademark in his name and therefore the alleged Twitter usage violates that trademark.

Phew. Still with us? Almost there . . .

Regarding relief, Carreon seeks that the court require IndieGoGo to register as a California fundraiser before conducting future fundraising and that NWF and ACS require written contracts with commercial fundraisers in California. He maintains that any funds collected are “subject to a charitable trust for the sole benefit of NWF and ACS,” and asked the court to impose such a trust on funds collected by IndieGoGo and allocate half to the NWF and half to the ACS (and none to Inman or IndieGoGo).

Carreon also seeks damages, including punitive, and attorney’s costs from Inman.

Inman has responded with an open letter to Carreon, which also asks folks to “stop harassing Carreon.” Seems like this ball has just started rolling.

Now, LegalZoom readers, what say you about all this?

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