A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jul 1, 2017

'McMansion Hell' Used Zillow Photos To Mock Bad Design: Litigation Ensued

Zillow is a website in the business of selling real estate, so it is understandable why it might feel threatened by a blog that mocked many of the features it emphasizes to pump sales.

But whether it has legal standing, whether this violates copyright or the doctrine of fair use - and whether the internet could use more of a sense of humor are questions that remain unresolved. JL

Cyrus Farivar reports in ars technica:

Zillow threatened to sue saying that (it) was violating  terms of use, copyright law, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because (it) took images from the company's website without permission. (It) acknowledged the images came from Zillow and were posted under the fair use doctrine, as (it) was providing commentary on architectural styles. Zillow does not own the images in question. It remains unclear why the company would have standing to bring a lawsuit.
An architecture blogger has temporarily disabled her website, McMansionHell.com, after receiving a demand letter from Zillow and posting it on Twitter.
Zillow threatened to sue Kate Wagner, saying that she was violating its terms of use, copyright law, and possibly the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because she took images from the company's website without permission. However, on each of her posts, she acknowledged that the images came from Zillow and were posted under the fair use doctrine, as she was providing (often humorous) commentary on various architectural styles. Her website was featured on the design podcast 99% Invisible in October 2016.
Confusingly, Zillow does not even own the images in question. Instead, Zillow licenses them from the rights holders. As such, it remains unclear why the company would have standing to bring a lawsuit against Wagner.
Meanwhile, Wagner now says she's looking for an attorney.
Wagner added in a statement posted to Twitter that receiving this notice was "utterly terrifying."
"There have been no major issues regarding the [website] until this moment," she wrote. "It is my sincere hope that this issue is resolved as amicably as possible."
Wagner told Ars that she disabled the domain to create an archive of the posts.
"I will reinstate the domain when things cool down a bit," she wrote to us via Twitter DM. "Ultimately, I do plan on restoring it in some way, shape, or form. While I will not post Thursday's regularly scheduled content, I do plan on posting a text-centric essay about identifying everyday houses on Saturday."
Meanwhile, Emily Heffter, a Zillow spokeswoman, declined to respond to Ars' specific questions. She sent us the same statement that Zillow has sent to other media outlets.
"We are asking this blogger to take down the photos that are protected by copyright rules, but we did not demand she shut down her blog and hope she can find a way to continue her work," the statement reads.

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