In the latest twist in a bizarre lawsuit targeting The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman and his “BearLove Good, Cancer Bad” fundraising campaign in support of the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation, attorney Charles Carreon has run to court to try to stop the distribution of the fund. Today, with the help of EFF and co-counsel Venkat Balasubramani, Inman fought back with an opposition to Carreon's demand for a temporary restraining order.
Inman started his campaign last month as part of his response to a legal threat letter he received from the website FunnyJunk. In 2011, Inman published a blogpost condemning FunnyJunk for posting hundreds of his comics without crediting or linking back to The Oatmeal. A year later, Carreon – the attorney for FunnyJunk – served Inman with a letter claiming the post was defamatory and demanding The Oatmeal pay $20,000 and agree to never speak the words Funny Junk again.
Inman crafted a humorous and creative response, publicly annotating the cease and desist letter with a scathing critique of its facts and logic. He could have stopped there, but he also tried to make some good come of the situation. Instead of paying the baseless demand, Inman decided instead to ask people to give money to Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad. As he explained:
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.
I’m hoping that philanthropy trumps douchebaggery and greed.
The Internets stood up and cheered, the campaign on Indiegogo met its initial goal of $20,000 in 64 minutes, and over $100,000 in the first day. Incensed, Carreon demanded that Indiegogo put a stop to the campaign, but the crowdsourcing website refused to halt the fundraiser. So Carreon filed suit - against Inman, Indiegogo, the two charities and later, for good measure, the California Attorney General. Nevertheless, the campaign continued, raising over $200,000 for NWF and ACS.
So what is standing in the way of getting that money to the good folks who protect bears and fight cancer? Carreon, and his outrageous demand for a temporary restraining order, filed yesterday.
Why outrageous? Let us count the ways:
Carreon's claim runs contrary to the Constitution. As Carreon is well aware, freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our legal system. Carreon wants the court to shut down Inman's speech: a comic response to the letter. Sorry, Charlie, the First Amendment protects Inman's right to challenge your legal threat.
Carreon is wrong on the law. Carreon based his claim on the notion that Inman, a full-time webcomic artist based in Seattle, violated false advertising law because he was allegedly required to register with the California Attorney General as a professional fundraiser. No, Inman is not a commercial fundraiser and not required to register, and he certainly did not falsely advertise to anyone that he was registered.
Ten bucks may help bears and fight cancer, but it doesn't give Carreon control of the funds. The night before Carreon filed suit, he donated $10 to Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad, claiming this gave him standing to stop the distributiuon of the money, and keep Inman from taking the photo of cash. The law does not permit this.
A TRO would only cause undue delay. Carreon claims he needs to take control and put the money in a charitable trust for the charities. Yet all his gamesmanship would do is delay the money for the charities - much of which has already been sent. There simply is no basis for the court to get involved.
There are many other reasons, explained in detail in our opposition. Indiegogo has also opposed the restraining order, expaining why the suit should never have been brought against them in the first place.