FunnyJunk.com broke its search engine

For a good analysis of the legal side of the Oatmeal vs FunnyJunk check out Popehat.

There’s a battle going on between FunnyJunk.com and Oatmeal. It comes down to the publication of Oatmeal’s copyrighted content on an aggregator site. Oatmeal made a grumpy post about it, FunkyJunk responded with lawyers. OK one lawyer. To which Oatmeal posted a grumpier post including a wildly annotated image of the lawyer’s letter.

But part of the lawyer’s claim is that the links Oatmeal posted do not link to any copyrighted content on FunnyJunk. This list includes content from other internet humor greats such as Dilbert, Hyperbole and a Half, and XKCD.

He’s right, those links are empty. So I used the search engine on the FunnyJunk site, I chose the term “xkcd”, I figured this was the most distinctive term to search on. However I repeated the experiment with other online comics and got the same outcome. As I suspected using FunnyJunk’s search engine for the term “xkcd” gives no results.

But there’s a search trick you can do with Google, to search within a website, and if I do this I get a very different outcome;

.

Google can find 43,000 references to XKCD on the FunnyJunk site. But is it really XKCD content? I clicked on one link;

It seems to be a whole page of XKCD’s comics, the distinctive style is evident even in the thumbnail images. I clicked on one just to check…

Oh yes, that’s a pretty famous comic,  you can see the original on the XKCD site. You’ll also note that the “top funny junk” on the left hand side is “oatmeal vs. FJ”, which FunnyJunk can’t find with its own search engine.

FunnyJunk’s argument is that the site only collects user-uploaded content and will remove any content that is uploaded against copyright following any DMCA request. Which is, I think, correct under the current law – they are not required to check content or take action until and unless the content owner makes a complaint. But why should an artist such as Oatmeal, who is trying to make a living by his work, have to also scan the internet looking for incidents where his content is stolen, and re-used by another site to make money? This is exactly the reason that our copyright laws need updating for the internet age (and no, SOPA is not the answer).

In the meantime, it seems that FunnyJunk has broken its own search engine, programming it to ignore terms used in Oatmeal’s original complaint. But the content is still there. Meanwhile the lawyer is demanding 20K, it’s not clear what for.

Oatmeal set out to raise 20K to donate to charities (bears good; cancer bad) rather than send to the lawyer, and reached that level in about an hour, it currently stands at over 120K. If you want to add to the pool of funds “against douchebaggery” as Oatmeal so elegantly puts it go for it – here.

Postscript 25 May 2016

FunkyJunk’s search engine works again. A search on “xkcd” gives search results of the distinctive comics.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.27.48

A search for “the oatmeal” gives a number of results from The Oatmeal, the first result is part of his campaign against Funky Junk. I wonder what would turn up if I searched for “irony”. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.36.30

 

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2 thoughts on “FunnyJunk.com broke its search engine

  1. FJ does not currently comply with safe harbor laws, so they are not immune. Even if they did comply with DMCA takedown requests, they would still be liable for infringement.

    • You’re absolutely right. In this case their lawyer is stating that FJ has complied with the takedown requests; the links Oatmeal originally submitted are empty, and the search engine results support that claim. But the reality is there is still a ton of infringing content – 43,000 xkcd results using google.

      It seems that rather than address the real issue, they’ve configured their own search engine to ignore that content.

      I’m not a lawyer but doesn’t that count as “acting in bad faith” or something?

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