Charles Carreon drops The Oatmeal suit, declares victory

Charles Carreon, the attorney who sued cartoonist Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), the crowd-funding site IndieGoGo, and two charities, has dropped his lawsuit and declared victory.

“The logical goals of the lawsuit were accomplished,” Carreon told The Washington Post. “Inman aborted his ‘publicity stunt’ to photograph himself with the proceeds that were intended to go to charity, the court took cognizance of the issues and ordered Inman to deposit evidence of his disposition of the funds, and Inman deposited the evidence of payments made to the charities.”

Of course, Inman intended to give the money to the charities all along, so Carreon suing him to do so is a bit like me suing the sun to force it to rise in the morning. It's worth noting that Carreon actually filed a motion that would have delayed turning over the money, presumably to prevent Inman from photographing it. In the end, Inman photographed himself with $200,000 of his own cash, which he could do because The Oatmeal pulled in about $500,000 last year.

Anyway, this story still has some legs. Carreon himself is now being sued (by a frivolous litigant, but hey, sauce for the goose), and his threats to sue a blogger who set up a parody site mocking him led the blogger to take the matter to court and ask for a declaratory judgment (basically, legalese for fish or cut bait). And read on for the strange parallel between the site he and his wife maintain and the busted pirate site HTMLComics.com.

Here's the background: Carreon started the whole affair by threatening to sue Inman for defaming his client FunnyJunk after Inman wrote that the website was posting his cartoons without permission. The attorney demanded $20,000 in damages and threatened to sue for defamation if Inman didn't pay up. Inman responded by drawing a rude picture of the mother of FunnyJunk's owner trying to seduce a bear and setting up a fund-raiser on IndieGoGo to raise $20,000. His plan was to photograph himself with the money, send the photo and the cartoon to FunnyJunk, and donate the money to the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation. The fund-raiser ended on June 25 with slightly more than $220,000.

Carreon's response was to sue Inman, IndieGoGo and the two charities, claiming they were violating charitable donation laws. Having set himself up as a watchdog, he then applied for a temporary restraining order to prevent IndieGoGo from actually turning over the money, either to Inman or to the two charities. In fact, by the time he filed, IndieGoGo had already turned over the portion of the money in its possession to the charities — and told Carreon it had done so. (He seems to have wanted to stop Inman from photographing the cash; to keep the money from being tied up, Inman decided to just photograph his own cash instead.)

That's all history now, though, because Carreon has filed a voluntary notice of dismissal. Of course, this gives him the right to go back and reopen the case if he ever loses his mind feels so inclined.

But wait! There's more!

Carreon also aimed his sights at the blogger who set up the parody site Censoriousdouchebag, using his name as the domain name. He threatened the domain registrar Registrar.com with a lawsuit, and it rolled right over and gave him the name of the blogger. Carreon threatened to sue the blogger for trademark infringement (the trademark being his name). At this juncture, Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen volunteered to help, and his post gives a glimpse of Carreon's tactics, which play right into everyone's worst stereotypes of lawyers:

He instructed me to warn my client to worry about being sued at a later time when Public Citizen might not defend him and about being sued for six-figures worth of damages that would not be dischargeable in bankruptcy; he also pointed to what he claimed to be a reputation for “extended” litigation including “appeals for years.”

To avoid just such an outcome, Levy has filed for a declaratory judgment, basically asking the court to tell Carreon that there is no infringement.

In other news, Carreon's wife Tara is accusing Inman of being obsessed with grammar, which apparently makes him an ally of far-right wacko David Lynn Miller.* In her mind, that is evidence of an Illuminati-like conspiracy. Incidentally, Tara Carreon runs a site called American Buddha that purports to be an "online library" in the same sense that HTMLComics did, posting books and at least one graphic novel in their entirety and justifying it with the U.S. copyright law's one-copy clause. They do have a link for takedown notices, and that link goes to Charles Carreon. At least one publisher, Penguin, has sued American Buddha, but in the way these things go, everyone is bickering about jurisdiction and not really getting to the point, which is that Tara Carreon is posting copyrighted materials without permission and defending it on the grounds that she is an Internet librarian.

But the icing on the cake is that the Carreon's suit attracted the attention of one Jonathan Lee Riches, who is much, much more litigious than Carreon, having filed more than 2,600 lawsuits, including the 10 different suits against the Kardashians that, he says, Carreon told him personally to file. Riches, who operates under a number of different names, is a serial suer and what the courts call a "vexatious litigant," so much so that he is banned from filing suit under his own name. It looks like he has also filed a suit using Inman's name, which is probably a bad idea as the courts don't take kindly to people lying to them.

*Hey, if using semicolons correctly is wrong, I don't wanna be right!

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