'Oatmeal' exposes serious business of online silliness

Rival FunnyJunk threatened to sue humorist Matthew Inman for $20,000, but he came up with thousands more -- all from crowdfunding, all for charity

In the business-technology world of frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit, it's refreshing to see someone other than IP ambulance chasers and their wolf-crying clients cashing in. Evidently, thousands of social networking users agree, judging by the overwhelming support for online humorist Matthew Inman's karmic counterpunch against legal posturing from rival humor site FunnyJunk.com.

Inman, creator of the highly popular online comic "The Oatmeal," successfully drew on social networking and crowdfunding Monday to raise an astonishing $20,000 in just an hour via Indiegogo, with thousands more pouring in throughout the day as word spread via Twitter, Facebook, and even Google+.

Inman isn't planning to use the donations to hire an attorney to defend himself against FunnyJunk's, er, laughable claims of defamation and false allegations. (I envision Larry Ellison suddenly feeling inspired to use his new Twitter account to solicit funds via Kickstarter to pay for Oracle's legal skirmishes.) Rather, Inman plans to divvy up the pot evenly between the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation. The two groups can expect a nice pile of cash once the campaign ends in 15 days: As of Tuesday morning, he had collected in excess of $110,000 from more than 7,700 donors.

Some background: In 2011, Inman wrote a blog post accusing the site operators of violating the DMCA by loading up FunnyJunk with hundreds of his comics without permission or credit and profiting from them through online advertising. In response, FunnyJunk attorney Charles Carreon sent a letter to Inman accusing the latter of defamation and false advertising.

The punchline: Carreon demanded Inman send payment of $20,000 to FunnyJunk as remediation for the statements Inman has made on his site. As we now know, Inman has far exceeded that tally in his fundraising.

Though a legal tussle between two humor sites may not warrant quite the same level of attention as Apple vs. Samsung or Oracle vs. the planet, it demonstrates the still growing power of social media. Granted, it may not be the same as seeing hundreds of revolutionaries joining together via Twitter or big companies using their clout and visibility to draw massive support to a cause. But we've now witnessed one man who, while perhaps something of an Internet celebrity, is not a household name, yet rallied thousands of strangers to donate tens of thousands of dollars to a cause in 64 minutes, all from a single blog post and all thanks to social media.

Beware the enterprise company -- let alone FunnyJunk -- that pissed off the wrong person, because this could happen to them.

This story, "'Oatmeal' exposes serious business of online silliness," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.