When Zillow sent Kate Wagner, the 23-year-old behind the popular blog McMansion Hell, a cease and desist letter this week, the real estate listing company gave her until the end of today to delete photos obtained from Zillow from her website. It’s nearing the deadline and Wagner’s blog is back up, all photos remained, and Zillow has agreed to instead back away from a potential lawsuit.
Here’s the SparkNotes of what happened: on Monday, Zillow sent a letter to Wagner claiming her use of Zillow photos to illustrate bad architecture was in violation of copyright laws and did not apply under fair use. We contacted Zillow and the company admitted it technically doesn’t “own the photos” it claims to have copyright over. Just about every law expert (or casual users of the fair use clause) called Zillow out on its bullying tactics, and many threatened to boycott the service.
“It was never our intent for McMansion Hell to shut down”
By Tuesday, Wagner announced that the Electronic Frontier Foundation will be representing her against Zillow. Today, the EFF released its full letter sent to Zillow, in which it asserts that “Zillow cannot leverage its agreements with third parties to assert some kind of 'super copyright' that overrides fair use.” Additionally, it said Wagner will agree to stop using photos sourced from Zillow (though it is unclear whether that includes websites under the Zillow Group, which includes Trulia, HotPads, and StreetEasy). That seems to be a reasonable compromise for Zillow, which confirmed it will not pursue legal action against Wagner.
“It was never our intent for McMansion Hell to shut down, or for this to appear as an attack on Kate’s freedom of expression,” Zillow tells The Verge in a statement. “We acted out of abundance of caution to protect our partners — the agents and brokers who entrust us to display photos of their clients’ homes.”
And thus ends a short-lived drama that did no favors for Zillow’s rep and probably only boosted McMansion Hell’s popularity. Way to go, Zillow.