The Oatmeal's BearLove Saga Gets Weirder

Categories: Tech
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One week ago in this space was a funny little item about how the creator of The Oatmeal comic, Matthew Inman, had raised $100,000 in response to a lawyer's demand that Inman hand over $20,000 to the lawyer's client, an awful website called Funnyjunk.com whose users had been posting unauthorized copies of The Oatmeal in wholesale fashion. Inman made fun of both the site and its lawyer for making empty legal threats against him. Rather than backing down in the face of deserved public ridicule, the lawyer has doubled down, taking his hurt feelings deeper into the American judicial system.

Inman's initial complaints about the site, the lawyer said, amounted to defamation. Inman had no intention of giving any of the money he raised to the lawyer or to Funnyjunk. Instead, he posted his rendering of a deranged-looking woman (identified as the mother of Funnyjunk) trying to seduce a bear, dubbed it "BearLove Good. Cancer Bad," and pledged to give the money to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.

The story is still funny. Even funnier, in fact. But in getting funnier, it has also taken a rather disturbing and pathetic turn. In the aftermath of a wash of publicity, the Dickensianly named lawyer, Charles Carreon, expressed shock that his craven attempt at legal blackmail was not merely ignored, but publicly ridiculed -- by Inman, but also by everyone who had anything to say about it at all. Carreon went on MSNBC and threatened to shut down the fundraiser.

Incredibly, he followed through, filing a lawsuit not only against Inman but against the charities to which Inman plans to give the money he's collected, which as of this writing was approaching $200,000. That's right: Carreon, because his feelings were hurt, is suing two charities devoted to protecting wildlife and fighting cancer, neither of which have anything to do with any of this.

As for the legalities: There aren't any, really, though Mike Masnick TechDirt explains as well as anyone can how illogical the legal claims are in a technical sense. But the legal specifics are beside the point -- this is merely a grown man behaving increasingly like a child, and using the court system to lash out at perceived enemies.

There is a tinge of paranoia about Carreon's actions and utterances that force observers to wonder what's really going on here -- mere childishness, or something deeper? Before he filed the claim, he asserted that his own website was the target of "security attacks instigated by Inman." This, he posted on his contact page, which distressingly (if predictably) became the target of many writers of nasty notes. He had to shut that page down, and somehow decided this was Inman's fault.

Inman, from all available evidence, is about as far from vindictive as a person can get. Indeed, he comes across as a real mensch, though one with a sharp-edged sense of humor. There is nothing to indicate that he "instigated" anything other than some charity fundraising, and certainly no evidence that he is responsible for any "security attack." Or even that there has been a security attack at all. Just mean e-mails. Indeed, none of Carreon's claims from the beginning has withstood the test of evidence. At the start of all this, Inman didn't do anything but complain about Funnyjunk's users posting his comics on the site -- he didn't sue or threaten to sue. He wasn't particularly insulting toward the site, though he had good reason to be. (It's quite hideous, looking, as it does, as if it were designed by a chimp. And it appears to be peopled mostly by halfwits.)

Inman didn't even seem particularly peeved except by the sheer volume of his work that was illicitly reposted. Carreon has chosen perhaps the worst possible person to represent what he sees as the big, mean Internet.

We can be confident of two things: this will end badly for Carreon, who might ultimately have to pay the legal fees of the people and institutions he's suing thanks to anti-SLAPP laws; and it will end very, very well for The Oatmeal, which is only getting more popular for all the publicity. And deservedly so -- it's a consistently great comic.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.


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