Digital rights group to help represent online comic in ‘bizarre lawsuit’

Matt Pitchford | Contributor

There are two things that the Internet will always like: porn kittens and clever cartoons. When either of these is threatened, you can expect a reaction much like lawyer Charles Carreon has received over the course of the last week.

Carreon sent Matthew Inman a letter threatening a defamation lawsuit unless Inman paid $20,000 to FunnyJunk in damages on the grounds that a 10-month-old blog post by Inman had “a false accusation of willful copyright infringement” and was therefore defamation.

Inman responded by writing a comic and launching a campaign that would raise the $20K for charity, not for Carreon’s suit. So far, Inman has raised over ten times that — $207,000 — for “BearLove Good. Cancer Bad.”

That’s when things got bizarre. MSNBC reports that Carreon is now “taking his fight to those two charities, as well as IndieGogo, the fundraising platform that hosted the campaign.” The suit is focused on “trademark infringement and incitement to cyber-vandalism.”

The Electronic Freedom Foundation released a statement Thursday announcing that the group will represent Inman to fend off the “bizarre lawsuit targeting the online comic strip’s fundraising campaign in support of the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation.”

“I have a right to express my opinion, whether Mr. Carreon likes it or not,” Inman said in the EFF release. He adds, “while the lawsuit may be silly, the harm it can do is very real.”

EFF is a non-profit organization dedicated to “defending your digital rights.” As much as this fight between Inman and Carreon sounds like a soap opera, the consequences could have a dramatic impact on how the First Amendment is interpreted regarding criticism, satire and speech online.

“This lawsuit is a blatant attempt to abuse the legal process to punish a critic,” said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry.

Inman’s lawyer, Venkat Balasubramani, wrote in a letter to Carreon about the original defamation suit, “the internet does not like censorship, and does not react kindly to it. Bringing a lawsuit against The Oatmeal is ill advised.”

It is probably good for Carreon that no kittens were involved.

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Tags : free speech
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