What do you get when you mix a lawyer, a popular comic website, copyright infringement allegations and a fundraising effort starring a flirty Kodiak bear?
A lawsuit, of course.
Charles Carreon, an Internet attorney who gained notoriety during the Web's infancy litigating over the domain rights to a porn site, sued comic website The Oatmeal last week, claiming his squabble with the popular humor site has incited "cyberterrorism" against himself in the form of hackers infiltrating his website, a phantom Twitter account under his name antagonizing people and unsolicited subscriptions to porn sites.
Caught up in the 56-year-old's lawsuit filed June 15 in San Francisco federal court are Matthew Inman, creator of the The Oatmeal; Indiegogo, a San Francisco website that helps people raise money online; and the American Cancer Society and National Wildlife Federation.
Including the charities in the lawsuit has particularly enraged a legion of fans of The Oatmeal, already upset that Carreon brought an internet feud to the halls of justice.
The Web kerfuffle in a nutshell?
A year ago, Inman claimed he found some of his comics posted on FunnyJunk -- a website that aggregates humorous material -- without crediting or linking them to The Oatmeal. On his blog, a frustrated Inman asked readers what he should do about it, saying cease and desist letters were not effective. He summarized FunnyJunk's business model, saying they slather funny pictures
Fast forward to June 2, when Carreon, on behalf of FunnyJunk, wrote Inman demanding he take down the blog post accusing his client of copyright infringement and pay $20,000 to make up for lost advertising revenue.
Carreon, speaking by phone from his Tucson office, said his client is not a "willful copyright infringer." FunnyJunk, by its nature, receives many notices to remove copyrighted materials and they oblige, Carreon said. He helped write the site's policy which makes members promise not to infringe on copyrights and that repeat offenders would be barred. The attorney claimed the $20,000 was used more as a threat and he would have been happy to have the Funny Junk blog post simply taken down.
That didn't happen.
Instead, Inman posted Carreon's letter on his website and said he would not pay the $20,000, but instead raise that amount to be split between the American Cancer Society and National Wildlife Federation, and send the attorney a photograph of the cash along with a drawing of Funny Junk's mom seducing a kodiak bear. Born was the charity fundraiser dubbed "BearLove Good. Cancer Bad."
In his lawsuit, Carreon described the fundraising logo as a "misogynistic cartoon depicting an obese female dressed in her underwear, with pendulous breasts popping out of her brassiere, an enormous posterior distended by an overstretched thong, rouged cheeks, and a crudely-lipsticked mouth, calling out to an apparently disinterested brown bear half her size, 'COME HURR AND LOVE MEEEE!'" He also felt the mother drawing was aimed at his parent.
"Unbeknownst to Mr. Inman, I was very, very attached to my mom," Carreon said by phone, referring to his mother as "a nice Catholic woman" who died in a drowning accident. "It struck a nerve."
"My client came up with this creative, if not funny, way to respond to a legal threat," said Corrine McSherry, intellectual property director with San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation who is representing Inman pro bono. "And I think Mr. Carreon is not happy with the response. Mr. Carreon has been the subject of a great deal of criticism... and none of it is within my client's control."
Meanwhile, the fundraiser quickly surpassed $20,000. It has raised more than $200,000 for the two charities, with donations accepted through Monday.
And that has raised the ire of Carreon, who sued last week to create a trust with the proceeds to make sure the money goes to the two charities and not Inman.
"Of course he's going to give it all to charity," McSherry said. "At the end of the day, what this lawsuit is about is punishing someone engaging in critical speech. That's the core of the lawsuit."
Carreon also asks for damages claiming trademark infringement and incitement of cybervandalism.
Carreon claims someone created a Twitter account with his trademarked name and engaged in "verbal combat" with other Twitter users.
"Don't tell me that's parody. You can't say: '@Nissan Automotive: Fords suck they get bad gas mileage,'" he said. "I have control over my commercial image."
In addition, Carreon has mysteriously been signed up for numerous porn sites, along with people leaving him voicemails pretending to vomit and ordering him pizzas without his knowledge.
"That was truly not innovative," he laughed.
Carreon said he contacted the charities who were unaware of the fundraising effort.
"That explains why there is so much fraudulent fundraising going on because they don't monitor it," Carreon said. "Look, I have no interest in supporting the object of making fun of my mom, but I'm all about giving support to the American Cancer Society and Wildlife Federation."
The San Francisco website hosting the fundraiser discounted the lawsuit.
"As the largest crowdfunding platform operating in nearly 200 countries Indiegogo exists to provide crowdfunding opportunities worldwide," said Slava Rubin, the company's CEO and co-founder, in a released statement, "and a frivolous lawsuit doesn't change Indiegogo's commitment to this creative and popular campaign."
The two charities did not respond to media requests Friday.
Meanwhile, Carreon responded to the criticism that his lawsuit was mere retribution.
"Vengeance against Mr. Inman is something I don't need and I don't want," he said.
Inman's attorney countered:
"The right answer to speech you don't like is more speech, not a lawsuit."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.