Monday, August 6, 2012
The joy of thinking way outside of the box
Last month Matthew Inman finished raising over $105,000 each for his two favorite charities - the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society, from fans of his web comic site The Oatmeal. How and why he did this is a story so amazing that it’s almost unbelievable. You can read a detailed ten-act chronology of it at Popehat, or look on ars technica. What follows is my version with only some of the play-by-play action.
Up in Seattle Matt Inman writes sarcastic web comics like Six Reasons to Ride a Polar Bear to Work and 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (which was also the title of his book collecting many of those comics). Last year Mr. Inman got upset about another web site called FunnyJunk where people were posting copies of his cartoons. At his blog he asked What should I do about FunnyJunk.com? because they:
“1. Gather funny pictures from around the internet
2. Host them on FunnyJunk. com
3. Slather them in advertising
4. If someone claims copyright infringement, throw your hands up in the air and exclaim ‘It was our users who uploaded your photos! We had nothing to do with it! We’re innocent!’
5. Cash six figure advertising checks from other artist’s stolen material”
Matt had previously blogged about WhyI Didn’t Like Riding the Bus as a Kid. Based on that post, I wouldn’t have even thought about trying to bully him now. It would be about as stupid as bothering a sleep-deprived wolverine by sticking a boombox (with the volume turned up all the way) in front of him and playing Nirvana’s song Smells Like Teen Spirit.
FUNNYJUNK’S LAWYER SENDS A SHAKEDOWN LETTER
On June 2nd Charles Carreon sent Matt Inman a bullying letter in which he claimed that Matt had defamed FunnyJunk and should pay them $20,000 in damages to go away, or else they would sue him. Later, in an interview with Seattle’s alternative weekly, the Stranger:
“Carreon admits he was misinformed: Before demanding the $20,000, which was based on FunnyJunk's ‘estimate of advertising losses sustained due to the taint of being accused of engaging in willful copyright infringement,’ Carreon was told that all Oatmeal comics had been taken off the FunnyJunk site, even though they hadn't. ‘If I had known... no demand would have gone out,’ he says.”
THE OATMEAL RESPONDS WITH A CHARITY FUND RAISING CAMPAIGN
Mr. Inman blogged about the letter and published it with his response, which basically was:
“No, I’ve got a better idea.
1. I’m going to try and raise $20,000 in donations.
2. I’m going to take a photo of the raised money.
3. I’m going to mail you that photo, along with this drawing of your mom seducing a Kodiak bear.
4. 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."
He ended by saying that Operation Bear Love Good. Cancer Bad was now commencing (to run for two weeks), and ended with a giant DONATE BUTTON (using a site called IndieGoGo).
It took less than 65 minutes for him to raise the $20,000, and he eventually raised almost eleven times that amount.
Inman was careful to black out Mr. Carreon’s contact information. Nevertheless, some of his fans began bothering Carreon. A sensible person would have walked away at this point. Instead Carreon decided to make a Federal case out of it.
CHARLES CARREON GOES SOLO AND SUES ALMOST EVERYBODY
He filed a lawsuit on June 15th in the U.S. District Court (for the Northern District of California) against:
the National Wildlife Federation
the American Cancer Society
a hundred “John Does” (players to be named later)
(and later even added) the Attorney General of the State of California (Kamala Harris)
Of course, Mr. Carreon also demanded a jury trial. Ironically, he also contributed $10 to Inman’s campaign (to help establish standing to sue). Nobody was amused, especially the Electronic Frontier Foundation who jumped in to help defend Inman. Carreon also filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent Inman from sending the money to the charities. That didn’t work, but Inman took a photo of his own money rather than the charity money.
CHARLES CARREON DECLARED VICTORY AND DROPPED THE LAWSUIT
Of course, he dismissed it without prejudice, which meant that he reserved the right to start again later (whenever pigs fly). He also tried to harass a satirical blogger, who got help from Public Citizen and turned the tables by suing Carreon.
Carreon got a lot of publicity, like at the web sites for Forbes, the Washington Post, and even Fox News but none of it was favorable. It’s a public relations disaster. I think the score so far was - Matt Inman 97 points and Charles Carreon 3 points.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
Just because you know how to file a lawsuit doesn’t mean that it’s prudent. Charles Carreon had misbehaved like he’d volunteered to be the Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. Chuck Jones has described the nine rules for those cartoons on page 225 of his book Chuck Amuck:
“Rule 1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going ‘beep-beep’.
Rule 2. No outside force can harm the Coyote - only his ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.
Rule 3. The Coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: ‘A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.‘ - George Santayana).
Rule 4. No dialogue ever, except ‘beep-beep.’
Rule 5. The Road Runner must stay on the road - otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.
Rule 6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters - the Southwest American Desert.
Rule 7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
Rule 8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
Rule 9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.”
Mr. Carreon blatantly disregarded Rule 3. He also didn’t seem to understand Rule 9, and put up a new web site on the topic of Rapeutation which he claims is a new tort defined as:
“...what an individual subjected to a DIRA ends up with, in place of a reputation.”
where the acronym DIRA means a:
“Distributed Internet Reputation Attack (DIRA): noun, an attack against the reputation of an individual that harnesses the distributed efforts of large numbers of both human and digital Internet zombies to proliferate unmanageable quantities of disparaging information in an effort to alter the conduct of the individual or entity.”
I think his loss of reputation mostly came via Rule 2. Behaving like an alien Vogon rather than a human being doesn’t make people sympathetic to your plight.
The Eat Oatmeal image was adapted from a World War I poster.
UPDATE September 4, 2012
New Scientist described how Matthew Inman got involved in raising money online to help buy the Wardenclyffe, New York laboratory built by his hero, Nikola Tesla.