One of the big stories of the week so far was Zillow’s mind-numbingly freakish decision to have a recent-hire lawyer send out a completely bullshit threat letter to the website McMansion Hell. She often makes memes out of Zillow home listing photos, pointing out features of home exteriors and rooms that are not exactly likely to win architecture awards.
Kate Wagner, an architecture critic, wishes America would have learned its lesson about McMansions the first time around. Along with copyright violations, a letter also claimed Wagner could be in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. “It’s pretty terrifying when someone issues you a letter saying you’re a criminal and you’re going to jail”.
Today on Twitter, Wagner said that a new post, using images in the public domain, will be up this Saturday. The vast majority of commenters have defended the tiny blog against the real estate giant, and some lawyers have given legal advice or suggestions online.
But Zillow said they hope Wagner can keep McMansion Hell alive.
Outside Zillow’s headquarters in downtown Seattle on Tuesday morning, someone plastered the walls with many colorful signs reading “MCMANSION HELL FOREVER”. She said she has removed photos before when she was approached by photographers whose images she took off real estate sites.
Except.it’s totally reasonable for someone scared by a bogus threat letter to pull down the whole site, rather than go back and individually ruin each story which all rely on images. We hope you will be able to resume your writing and find other sources for photos.
Second – and more importantly – she doesn’t need to find other sources for photos because (1) Zillow has no copyright interest here and should shut up about the copyright and (2) FAIR USE protects what she is doing. That responsibility falls on the copyright owners themselves, which in this case are real estate agents, brokerages, Multiple Listing Services, and other users who upload photos to Zillow. Wagner pulls all of her photos from Zillow, posting them with proper credit and a full legal disclaimer, and Zillow says, since they don’t own the photos, they’re liable for Wagner’s actions.