Waging War on the Internet
Posted June 19, 2012
Matthew Inman might be the next Sun Tzu. The Seattle resident and founder of TheOatmeal.com publishes webcomics about everything from “How to Pet a Kitty” to “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell.” His work is hilarious and his fan base is dedicated (and loyal), which made his anger and retaliation against FunnyJunk.com that much more potent.
FunnyJunk.com is an image-collecting site. Inman wrote a blog post almost a year ago about its practices, frustrated that his own work was being stolen. Here’s what he had to say:
“Here’s how FunnyJunk.com’s business operates:
1. Gather funny pictures from around the Internet
2. Host them on FunnyJunk.com
3. Slather them in advertising
4. If someone claims copyright infringement, throw your hands up in the air and exclaim, “It was our users who uploaded your photos! We had nothing to do with it! We’re innocent!”
5. Cash six figure advertising checks from other artist’s stolen material”
Inman didn’t continue posting about the site, though several news sites reported about his post. FunnyJunk removed some of his comics, but then returned to business as usual. A year later, FunnyJunk hired a lawyer and demanded that Inman pay it $20,000 in damages. Inman’s clever response was to annotate the letter FunnyJunk’s lawyer sent (be prepared for colorful language) and return with this:
“You want ME to pay YOU $20,000 for hosting MY unlicensed comics on YOUR [awful] website for the past three years?”
Inman did raise the $20,000 FunnyJunk requested. He asked his fans to donate money via IndieGoGo – it took just 64 minutes for him to reach his goal. At the time of this writing, the total amount had risen to almost $150,000 thanks to almost 10,000 contributors. Half will be given to the National Wildlife Federation (Inman loves to draw bears) and half will go to the American Cancer Society. According to his blog post, Inman plans to take a photo of the money and send that to FunnyJunk. The campaign is called “Operation Bearlove Good. Cancer Bad.”
According to Paul Tassi, a contributor at Forbes, FunnyJunk has no case. They might be defeated in court as badly as they’ve been beaten in the court of public opinion. Matthew Inman harnessed the power of his fans and created a cunning campaign to shame and discredit FunnyJunk’s lawsuit. Inman’s retaliation is strengthened by his use of philanthropy. No one wants to be viewed as a bear-hating cancer lover.
As Sun Tzu says, choose your battles wisely. FunnyJunk wound up with negative press, and its intention to wound The Oatmeal backfired – Inman comes off as a clever, funny guy, and a philanthropist to boot! FunnyJunk struck without a strategy and lost.
UPDATE: Charles Carreon, the lawyer for FunnyJunk, is suing Inman, IndieGOGO, the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Cancer Society. All the blogs I’ve read link back to Lowering the Bar and Popehat, both legal blogs. They’ve stated that Carreon has no case. What Carreon needs at this point is common sense (or to hire someone with common sense to advise him.) I’m not even going to go into this. Crazy speaks for itself.