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Posted at 09:34 AM ET, 06/18/2012

FunnyJunk lawyer suing The Oatmeal cartoonist Inman over Indiegogo charity drive [UPDATED]

MATTHEW INMAN PRIDES himself on being a satiric webcomic cartoonist who can wield that lacerating wit toward his critics. Charles Carreon prides himself on being a veteran attorney who has adapted to the newer terrain of Internet media law.

Now, the two sides are on a potential collision course toward the courtroom.
A comic from The Oatmeal. (MATTHEW INMAN - The Oatmeal)

Carreon, the Tucson-based lawyer who represents the user-generated site FunnyJunk.com, tells The Post's Comic Riffs that he is suing Inman — the Seattle-based creator of the popular webcomic "The Oatmeal" — in a skirmish between the two websites that has spawned accusations of content theft, claims of defamation and a charity drive hosted by Indiegogo.com that has already raised more than $175,000 this month from Inman fans, with a week still to go.

Carreon told The Post on Friday that he was filing his complaint that day with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in the Bay Area, claiming trademark infringement, cyber-vandalism and false personation, and challenging Inman's "Bear Love" charitable fundraiser, which says money raised will be donated to the American Cancer Society and the Reston, Va.-based National Wildlife Federation. Carreon says his federal lawsuit names as defendants not only Inman and Indiegogo, but also the wildlife and cancer organizations.

Carreon, who is named as the plaintiff, alleges that Inman is not qualified to be a charitable fundraiser, stating that Inman and the San Francisco-based Indiegogo “are not registered with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.” The Arizona attorney says Inman's "Bear Love" campaign — launched this month after Carreon served the cartoonist with a letter on behalf of FunnyJunk.com, demanding $20,000 in payment for defamation after Inman accused FunnyJunk of content theft — violates Indiegogo's terms of service.

In a statement Friday, the California company told Comic Riffs: "Indiegogo has not seen any behavior to cause us to believe that this campaign doesn’t comply with Indiegogo's Terms of Service.”

Update: On Monday, after the lawsuit was recorded as filed, Indiegogo told Comic Riffs in a statement: ”As the largest crowd-funding platform operating in nearly 200 countries, Indiegogo exists to provide crowd-funding opportunities worldwide, and a frivolous lawsuit doesn’t change Indiegogo’s commitments to this creative and popular campaign.”

Inman's attorney tells Comic Riffs that as of Monday morning, he declines to comment on the suit. Update: Inman writes on his website, in part, in an open letter to Carreon: “Your lawsuit is meritless and it'll probably just get dismissed, but I'm guessing you're just going to keep trying until you find an angle that sticks with a judge.”

In a blogpost on The Oatmeal a year ago, Inman first publicly accused FunnyJunk of stealing The Oatmeal comics, “re-hosting” them on its site and monetizing them. Generally, "I'm not one to combat piracy," Inman tells Comic Riffs. "If you want to post your comics on my site, just don't post 500 [of them] and just give me a link back."

FunnyJunk hosts thousands upon thousands of pieces of aggregated, user-generated content, some of it copyrighted material. "The administrator sits there and collects advertising revenue. ..." Inman tells Comic Riffs. "When you call them out, they throw their hands in the air."

(The administrator behind FunnyJunk has chosen to remain anonymous, his lawyer tells Comic Riffs.)

"Where I draw the line is when users upload hundreds of my comics for three years and don't link back to me," Inman tells Comic Riffs. "FunnyJunk mirrored pretty much everything I've ever done." 

Inman wrote on his blog that he first contacted FunnyJunk in 2010 "after I found a handful of my comics uploaded on their site with no credit or link back to me. They took down the offending images, but since then they've practically stolen my entire website."

Carreon, 56, tells Comic Riffs that FunnyJunk hired him "five or six months ago" for general website review and that the matter of The Oatmeal's 2011 blogpost came up. Carreon says he decided to send Inman a standard "hardball letter" accusing him of defamation — for which he sought $20,000 in damages — and demanded that he take down all references to FunnyJunk. 

Inman says he was incredulous — a site that took his content without pay or permission, he says, now wanted him to pay them. So instead of paying the money, he wrote: "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."

Inman dubbed the campaign "Operation BearLove Good. Cancer Bad," and said the raised funds would go to the National Wildfire Federation and the American Cancer Society. "I chose Indiegogo because Kickstarter doesn't handle charities," he tells Comic Riffs. With one week to go, the campaign has raised nearly $180,000. 

Carreon tells Comic Riffs that he himself has donated to the "BearLove" campaign, which he says gives him legal standing to make sure the donated funds indeed go to the charities.

Carreon also says he found the drawing to be disgusting. "I think satirical content is fine," Carreon tells The Post, "but him accusing my mother of bestiality is revolting, and I will not forgive it.” Inman, for the record, says the bikini-wearing woman in the drawing is not meant to represent Carreon's mother, but rather the FunnyJunk administrator's mother. 

Prior to The Oatmeal dust-up, Carreon was perhaps best known for successfully litigating the sex.com domain-name case. Carreon tells Comic Riffs one of his goals is to become the go-to attorney for people who feel they have been cyber-vandalized or similarly wronged on the Internet.

As for Inman, he says he just wants to get back to making comics.

By  |  09:34 AM ET, 06/18/2012

 
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