Can charity squash frivolous lawsuits?
The case of the cartoonist at The Oatmeal who was threatened by a lawyer for FunnyJunk after his work was allegedly ripped off hundreds of times surely offers some hope for humanity and, perhaps, for the legal system.
Sometimes, the strange and often lonely people who lurk on the Web do some good.
It isn't always by accident.
Many over the last 24 hours have been entranced by the tale of cartoonist Matthew Inman, the man behind The Oatmeal.
A year ago, he was rather upset when a site called FunnyJunk allegedly co-opted much of his work without actually paying him for it.
At the time, he wrote a very poignant blog post about it. The facts appeared troubling. Inman claimed that none of the material on FunnyJunk belonged to the site. The owner of FunnyJunk allegedly took some of Ingram's material down, but only some.
However, one year later Inman received a letter from a lawyer on behalf of FunnyJunk. The lawyer demanded $20,000 for "false statements of copyright infringement." Oh, and "defamation and false advertising."
Knowing this would take up a lot of time, money and energy, Ingram offered a highly witty and, to the lay eye, persuasive rebuttal.
However, he also went on Indiegogo in a very progressive attempt, perhaps, to embarrass both FunnyJunk and its lawyer Charles Carreon.
Not many lawyers suffer from embarrassment. But Inman thought that charity might "trump douchebaggery and greed." He tried to appeal to more lay eyes, indeed.
So he sallied onto IndieGoGo and asked whether visitors might contribute the very same $20,000 toward the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. Inman then promised to photograph the money and send it to FunnyJunk.
Let's imagine, for the sake of Tuesday, that this lawsuit might smack of a touch of frivolity. If, with his independent and go-go spirit, Inman makes it go away, might this set a fine and interesting precedent?
Might those who are the objects of patently spurious lawsuits appeal to the masses for, say, $1 a piece, in order to bring a little more populist sanity to America? Might this be one way in which a jury of the very, very many could offer an opinion on what is right and what not?
What if the law suddenly declared that if an amount was raised for charity, such lawsuits could not proceed? Yes, I know I am dreaming, but it's a pleasantly fanciful alternative for justice. Currently, it does seem that those with money and power often prevail.
In this case, it may well be that there are extraneous facts of which we, the unwashed, are unaware.
I therefore tried to contact Carreon -- who is very famous for his work on the celebrated Sex.com case -- to see whether he might offer some light.
However, on going to the contact page on his Web site, I discovered a disconcerting message:
You seem to have found a mis-linked page or search query with no associated results. Please trying your search again. If you feel that you should be staring at something a little more concrete, feel free to email the author of this site or browse the archives.
Carreon told MSNBC: "I really did not expect that he would marshal an army of people who would besiege my Web site and send me a string of obscene e-mails."
Really he didn't. Indeed, he claims he did nothing unreasonable.
He added: "I'm completely unfamiliar really with this style of responding to a legal threat -- I've never really seen it before. I don't like seeing anyone referring to my mother as a sexual deviant."
He may not back down. He believes, he told MSNBC, that Inman's fundraising may be counter to IndieGoGo's terms of service.
On Twitter, Carreon appears to be taking something of a pummeling.
One tweeter, Chris O'Rourke offered: "Have met Charles Carreon in the past. Thought he was a good guy. Now he's supporting content thievery & suing to hide the deception."
That is one of the milder musings.
On what appears to be Carreon's own Twitter feed, little is stirring, though Carreon did reply to one abusive tweet about his wearing a Joey Ramone T-shirt. (picture above)
Moreover, on closer inspection, he (if it is, indeed, his feed) describes himself as: "Counsel to the good and the good-looking."
I sent him a good-looking and polite tweet in the hope that he might offer more words of wisdom. Should he do so, I will update.