Matthew Inman

Crowdfunding the Court of Public Opinion

Throughout most of history, disputes were settled between individuals, tribes, or communities, either through force or with the help of some third party - a chief, king, judge, or priest who made the final decision. With the invention of mass media people found a new way to address their grievances - the court of public opinion. In the 500 years since Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, people have used publicity to gain support for all types of political, religious, economic, and cultural ideas. They’ve also used the media to make personal disputes public, in the hopes of creating a public outcry that can be used to their advantage. But now with the Internet and electronic payment, individuals have a new way to gain support - by crowdfunding the court of public opinion.

Almost a year ago, the owner of The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman put up a post complaining that a humor website - FunnyJunk - was using The Oatmeal’s content without permission.  The owner of FunnyJunk responded with the threat of a defamation lawsuit and offered to settle if Inman gave him $20,000. Instead of negotiating or counter suing, Mr. Inman took his case to crowdfunding website, indiegogo. His idea was to “to raise $20k to donate half to the National Wildlife Federation (for the bears), and half to the American Cancer Society (because cancer is shitty).” The project met its goal in the first 24 hours and as of this writing, with roughly 19 hours left, the campaign has raised over $210,000. FunnyJunk is clearly not amused and has now threatened further action against The Oatmeal, indiegogo, the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Cancer Society.