Why FunnyJunk’s Lawsuit Against Matthew Inman Was Doomed
What do you get when you combine an online comic strip and an allegedly thieving website? What else? A lawsuit. But not just any lawsuit, the ending to this one has a twist that could only be possible with the power of the internet.
Those familiar with “The Oatmeal” no doubt have already heard about the legal saga surrounding Matthew Inman’s popular internet comic. If you haven’t read the strip before, check out some of its greatest hits here.
So how did “The Oatmeal” go from the funny pages to the front pages? Well, it all started when FunnyJunk reposted some of Inman’s comics on its site. While many authors might not mind the free advertising, most would oppose other companies profiting off of their work, especially when said authors aren’t getting a cut of the money.
In the case of FunnyJunk, the website takes much of its content from other sites, which it then reposts to earn more advertising revenue. As you can imagine, Inman wasn’t too happy when “The Oatmeal” became a target. So in true new media fashion, rather than request FunnyJunk take down his work, he posted a tirade against FunnyJunk’s practices.
Now you might be wondering what FunnyJunk could possible sue Inman for. After all, they were the ones who allegedly took his material and posted it without his permission. Well apparently, that little bit of information didn’t stop them from claiming Inman’s tirade defamed the company.
Before we get to Inman’s unique response to the lawsuit, let’s take a moment to exam FunnyJunk’s defamation claim.
Defamation comes in two forms: libel and slander. Libel is when the offending comment is printed and slander is when it’s spoken. While both companies and people have standing to sue for defamation, plaintiffs generally must show three elements in order to win. Specifically, the statement must have been communicated to a third party, caused reputational harm, and be malicious.
Now even if Inman’s blog met all of these requirements, the problem is that truth is always a defense to any defamation claim. Meaning that a libel lawsuit would immediately fail if the alleged harmful statements are true. Inman’s comments merely stated what FunnyJunk did. No more, no less.
So why would a company file a defamation lawsuit that’s near impossible to win? It could be a scare tactic to get Inman off FunnyJunk’s back. The company requested $20,000 in damages from Inman, however, instead of paying up. Inman posted FunnyJunk’s demand letter along with a new blog saying that he would instead raise $20,000 in donations. He’d then mail a picture of the money along with another picture of the mom of FunnyJunk’s lawyer seducing a bear to the company. Inman capped it off by saying he’d donate anything he raised to charity.
Surprisingly, Inman’s fundraising effort paid off in spades. He earned over $100,000. Though despite the large amount of money, Inman still plans to give it all to charity. A great move on his part as it will raise his already positive public image. And conversely, lower FunnyJunk’s.