The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk, Part IV: Charles Carreon Sues Everybody
Note: our entire series of posts about the Oatmeal v. Funnyjunk situation is now complied under the Oatmeal v. Funnyjunk tag.
Background: the previous entries in our coverage of Charles Carreon's bizarre and contemptible behavior on behalf of his client, FunnyJunk, against The Oatmeal can be found here at Part I, Part II, and Part III.
On Friday, June 15, 2012, attorney Charles Carreon passed from mundane short-term internet notoriety into a sort of legal cartoon-supervillainy.
He transcended typical internet infamy when he filed a federal lawsuit last Friday in the United Sates District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland. He belonged to the ages the moment he filed that lawsuit not only against Matthew Inman, proprietor of The Oatmeal, but also against IndieGoGo Inc., the company that hosted Inman's ridiculously effective fundraiser for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.
But that level of censorious litigiousness was not enough for Charles Carreon. He sought something more. And so, on that same Friday, Charles Carreon also sued the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society, the beneficiaries of Matthew Inman's fundraiser.
Yes. Charles Carreon, butthurt that someone had leveraged his douchebaggery into almost two hundred thousand dollars of donations to two worthy charities, sued the charities.
I learned of this from Kevin Underhill, a Northern California attorney and proprietor of Lowering the Bar. If you don't already have Lowering the Bar in your RSS feed or your bookmarks, go put it there now. Now. There is no better site on the internet for simultaneously teaching and entertaining about the legal system.
Kevin emailed me because he spotted a notice from Courthouse News Service that Carreon had filed suit on Friday. The suit is not available on PACER as of the time of this writing. Here's what little Kevin found, and told me, from CNS:
1. The lawsuit is captioned Charles Carreon v. Matthew Inman; IndieGogo Inc.; National Wildlife Federation; American Cancer Society; and Does [Does are as-of-yet-unnamed defendants], Case No. 4:12 cv 3112 DMR.
2. Charles Carreon appears as "attorney pro se," meaning "I am attorney but am representing only myself" and "I will continue to wreak havoc until forcibly medicated."
3. CNS included the following description of the case, which is most likely drafted by CNS upon review of the complaint: "Trademark infringement and incitement to cyber-vandalism. Defendants Inman and IndieGogo are commercial fundraisers that failed to file disclosures or annual reports. Inman launched a Bear Love campaign, which purports to raise money for defendant charitable organizations, but was really designed to revile plaintiff and his client, Funnyjunk.com, and to initiate a campaign of "trolling" and cybervandalism against them, which has caused people to hack Inman's computer and falsely impersonate him. The campaign included obscenities, an obscene comics and a false accusation that FunnyJunk "stole a bunch of my comics and hosted them." Inman runs the comedy website The Oatmeal."
Now, that summary, most likely written by CNS, may be flawed; thorough analysis must await getting a copy of the complaint. But to the extent the summary is accurate, it suggests a number of patent defects in the complaint. First of all, Carreon — appearing pro se — doesn't have standing to sue for false statements against FunnyJunk, or for trademark violations against FunnyJunk. Second, if the "trademark infringement" is premised on the notion that The Oatmeal violated Charles Carreon's trademark in his own name by criticizing him, it is knowingly frivolous for the reasons set forth in the excellent letter Mr. Inman's attorney sent. Inman's discussion of Charles Carreon was self-evidently on its face classic nominative fair use, because it named him to shame him and not to make commercial use of his name. Similarly, I can say that Charles Carreon remains a petulant, amoral, censorious douchebag without violating his trademark because that's nominative, not commercial.
Further analysis must await review of the complaint, which should be available to the public soon. Note that there is no way to tell yet — without the complaint — the causes of action he has levied against the charities. He may have sued them only for injunctive or declaratory relief.
Charles Carreon is entitled and self-righteous to an abnormal degree, as you can see in these comments to Nick Nafpliotis, who did a great job tracking him down and interviewing him. In that interview, Carreon used a tactic that is now typical of litigious and thin-skinned people who are introduced to the Streisand Effect — he indulged in some good old-fashioned Godwinizing and quasi-Victorian pearl-clutching and couch-fainting:
I don't know if you're familiar with his cartooning–people having their heads thrown in a chipper, his character of a pterodactyl consuming blended brains with gusto–I've actually never seen anyone incite people to violence in that fashion."
. . . .
"It might not have seemed very dehumanizing when Walt Disney made Japanese people look silly with buck teeth and big glasses who could not pronounce their 'R's or their 'L's. But it was dehumanizing, and the purpose was to direct evil intentions against them, which ultimately resulted in the only nuclear holocaust that ever occurred in the history of humanity. I don't think Truman would have ever done that if we hadn't so dehumanized the enemy."
When you evaluate Charles Carreon being shocked and appalled at the violence in cartoons on The Oatmeal (which are milder, in fact, than many things you can see on South Park), and when you consider his contrived opposition to people "dehumanizing" the opposition, bear in mind that the site he and his wife run includes badly photoshopped cartoons of George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice having sex, and a song about Rice by Charles Carreon himself with a picture of Rice photoshopped to appear topless on a can of "Tits and Rice" soup. (Betcha there's more on their site; I haven't waded through all of the nutty incoherent sub-normal muck yet.) So: in addition to being a censor, Carreon is a hypocritical tool. He's the most universally scorned figure in the schoolyard: bully who can dish it out but can't take it.
But those are words. Carreon has filed suit. That's action. It calls for action in return. So act.
1. Kevin and I have offered pro bono help, and will be recruiting other First Amendment lawyers to offer pro bono help. It's not just Mr. Inman who needs help. IndyGoGo does to. So do the charities. No doubt the charities already have excellent lawyers, but money that they spend fighting Carreon (whatever the causes of action he brought) is money that they don't have to fight cancer and help wildlife. That's an infuriating, evil turn of events.
2. You could still donate through the IndieGoGo program The Oatmeal set up. Or you could donate directly to the American Cancer Society or the National Wildlife Federation. I like animals, and I loved my mother who died at 55 of cancer, but I have no qualms whatsoever about encouraging people to donate to those causes as part of a gesture of defiance and contempt against Charles Carreon and the petulant, amoral, censorious douchebaggery he represents.
3. Spread the word. Tell this story on blogs, forums, and social media. Encourage people to donate as part of a gesture of defiance of Charles Carreon and entitled butthurt censors everywhere. Help the Streisand Effect work.
4. Do not, under any circumstances, direct abusive emails or calls or other communications to Mr. Carreon. That helps him and hurts the good guys. I don't take his claims of victimhood at face value — not in the least — but such conduct is wrong, and empowers censors.
Up next: an analysis of the complaint once it is available, and a discussion of federal court options. (Maybe. As I said before, it may be more instructive for Mr. Carreon to learn about those by finding himself on the business end of them.)
Edit One: Kevin's post is up at Lowering the Bar.
Edit Two: As of 745 PST Monday, I have the complaint from various sources. You can find it at Carreon's website, though caution is probably warranted there. I have the unredacted version, and haven't yet compared it to the redacted version that Carreon publishes.
I'll discuss my analysis of the complaint when time permits. However, that analysis is likely to be quite limited, as I think the best policy is to keep the powder dry for the Rule 11 motion and motion to dismiss. In brief, however, Carreon names the two charities and IndieGoGo to seek to have the proceeds of the fundraiser held in a charitable trust and to force the charities to "police" fundraisers using their name so that people like Carreon won't be butthurt. His trademark claim is premised on an obviously fake and satirical Twitter account that used his name to parody him for a couple of days; he accuses Inman "upon information and belief" (meaning "without evidence") of being behind it. He also sues Inman and Does for "Inciting and Committing Cybervandalism In the Nature of
Trespass to Chattels, False Personation, and Identity Theft," on the theory that Inman is liable for things that people allegedly did to him. Uh-huh. It's not as illiterate as I expected, but it's definitely overtly petulant-entitled-crazypants.
Edit Three: As a consequence of the Streisand Effect, many people are already examining and critiquing the complaint closely. From commenter W. Ross, we already have an easily provable false statement of fact from the complaint.
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