Zillow Threatens to Sue Satirical Blog McMansion Hell

McMansion Hell, a Tumblr blog that calls out bad architecture in the form of over the top suburban sprawl, has been sent a cease and desist letter from Zillow. The real estate aggregate says that the blog violates their terms of service by editing listing photos by adding commentary.

McMansion Hell was started in July 2016 by Kate Wagner, a Johns Hopkins graduate student focusing on architectural acoustics, and has since amassed a loyal following for her snarky takes on what Gizmodo calls “suburban ticky-tacky monstrosities.”

Monday afternoon, Wagner posted the cease and desist letter to Twitter, with a call for legal help. McMansion Hell was temporarily taken down shortly after.

In the letter, Zillow alleges that Wagner is violating the site’s terms of service by reproducing the images on her blog, as well as infringing on the copyright of the photos’ original owners.

Wagner adds a disclaimer after each post, siting the Fair Use clause of the Copyright Act, which allows for the reproduction of images “for the purposes of education, satire, and parody.” Zillow is claiming that the usage does not apply, and also that it may “[interfere] with Zillow’s business expectations and interests.”

Ironically, Zillow was recently found guilty of copyright infringement, and ordered to pay a photography company damages to the tune of $4 million.

“I’ve never received any warning from them before this,” Wagner tells The Verge. “This blog is my entire livelihood and I am at risk of losing everything.” Wagner sells merchandise with original artwork, accepts donations, and is turning the blog into an e-book.

Zillow responded to The Verge with the following statement:

Zillow has a legal obligation to honor the agreements we make with our listing providers about how photos can be used. 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.



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