Website uses The Oatmeal comics without permission, demands $20K

The old definition of chutzpah is a man who murders his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

The new definition is what the website FunnyJunk has done: It allowed hundreds of The Oatmeal comics to be posted without permission, and then when creator Matthew Inman complained, the site demanded he pay them $20,000 or be sued in federal court for defamation.

Yeah, you read that right.

FunnyJunk is a website on which users can upload material -- videos, photos, comics -- they think is funny. Not surprisingly, especially given that the site seems to appeal to a younger demographic, a lot of that material is uploaded without the permission of the creators.

About a year ago, Inman wrote on his blog that his comics were appearing on FunnyJunk without his permission. In that post, he described FunnyJunk's business model as:

  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

The administrator of FunnyJunk responded by sending out a message saying "The Oatmeal wants to sue FunnyJunk and shut it down!" (Not true; Inman had simply sent a cease-and-desist letter.) He encouraged FunnyJunk users to contact The Oatmeal and let Inman know of their displeasure, and then he removed the comics with "oatmeal" in the title (but left up a whole bunch more Oatmeal comics that had been posted without attribution).

Then this week, FunnyJunk's lawyer sent Inman a letter accusing him of defamation, and threatened to sue him in federal court if he doesn't pony up $20,000.

Well, to update an old saw, "Never pick a fight with a man who buys pixels by the barrel," the corollary to which is, "Never pick a fight with a satirist, either."

Inman posted the letter on his site with several mocking responses, and set up an Indiegogo fund-raiser that works like this:

Instead of mailing the owner of FunnyJunk the money, I'm going to send the above drawing of his mother. I'm going to try and raise $20,000 and instead send it to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.

It took Inman 64 minutes to raise the $20,000; at this writing, pledges have topped $90,000.

That in itself is pretty incredible. If I had a charity, I'd consider hiring Inman to get pissed off at someone on my behalf. On the other hand, the most recent post (which Inman linked on his Facebook page) seems to have brought down his site, at least temporarily. Oh, the irony!

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