FunnyJunk lawyer sues charity recipients

by Walter Olson on June 19, 2012

After his nastygram aimed at Matthew Inman of humor site The Oatmeal backfired spectacularly — Inman turned his resistance into a much-publicized fundraiser for two nonprofit recipients, the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society — a California attorney proceeded to go a remarkable step further, with train-wreck consequences outlined at BoingBoing, Popehat, and Lowering the Bar. More: Inman, Lowering the Bar.

{ 3 comments }

1 Dave in Calif 06.19.12 at 10:44 pm

I regret to broach it, yet hope I am not alone in wondering if this is the least edifying/inspirational free speech controversy in history, noting that I am old enough to remember the contemporary romanticized hype around Hustler v. Falwell. Whatever its aesthetic merits, the victim–proprietor of Oatmeal–produces web art/literature that rarely strays from breezy dormitory nerd humor (a la “This iPod is really expensive”). The aggressor is a gray-market scavenger, not particularly unique. If pressed I could admit to being casually gratified by victim here obtaining his moral victory, without pretending it to be a watershed moment with civic ramifications; and I definitely do not understand hopping on the bandwagon to fete him. Sorry, it seems rather small and predictable judged against the state of the art in hero-fame machinery. Just my $.02 of course!

2 John Burgess 06.20.12 at 6:49 am

@Dave in Calif: I believe the point in this becoming news (or ‘feted’, if you prefer) is that an attorney, and officer of the court, is seeking to use the power of the court to squelch exercise of First Amendment rights.

The quality of Oatmeal doesn’t matter. What matters is if any speaker, whose expression falls squarely within the First Amendment, can be sued into silence.

The issue does, of course, also reach into issues of copyright, fair-use, and the ramifying of issues that result from new technologies on old(er) law. I find all of these interesting and worthy of comment in their own right as well.

Besides, it’s both fun and chilling to see attorneys grossly misunderstand the Constitution!

3 Dave in Calif 06.28.12 at 8:08 pm

I’ll just add that the copyright/fair-use implications (which, I agree, are huge, and generally unfavorable to independent artists like Inman lacking a big expensive firm on retainer) were being drowned in the Yay Free Speech theme of the story’s evolving presentation, abetted by that sensationalist bizarre-news hook of the lawyer going after the charities.

Inman’s 1st Amendment protection to mock someone was never really in doubt but this all started with his more serious protest of the property infringement, an area in which time and technological momentum seem not be on his side.

Comments on this entry are closed.