Another Bogus Copyright Takedown: Can't Protest A Viacom Movie With T-Shirts

from the where's-the-infringement? dept

Boing Boing points us to the news that someone who was trying to protest the fact that a new Viacom animated movie was hiring Caucasian actors to play Asian or Inuit characters found that the t-shirts she was selling via Zazzle were taken down due to a claim that they violated Viacom's intellectual property. It's difficult to see what the violation of intellectual property here is. The shirts don't use any imagery from the movie itself. The t-shirts were designed by the woman herself. The only thing they have is a mention of the name of the movie -- but that shouldn't be enough to force the content offline. On top of that, plenty of the shirts don't seem to name the movie at all, but do name one of the characters. Again, it's quite difficult to see how this is an intellectual property violation, in any way. The explanation that Zazzle gave isn't entirely clear -- as it might not be a case of Viacom complaining directly, but Zazzle taking the matter into its own hands (which is equally troubling). Whether it's Viacom or Zazzle, this appears to be an overly aggressive attempt to stop perfectly reasonable public speech by hiding behind intellectual property claims. Update: Someone from Viacom stopped by in the comments to let us know that it has no problem with the shirts. Zazzle just took the shirts down on their own, and Viacom has asked them to put the shirts back up. Nice to see Viacom respond in this manner.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    bob, May 4th, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    It Ain't right.

    Don't care about the last Airbender(blower) or the last "Cauc" Asian for that matter.
    As I recall Charlie Chan was not Chinese and no one got bent out of shape over that, until the present day.
    And Jackie Chan is Chinese and he has pissed lots of people off lately.
    But the Viacom takedown is BS.

     

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  2.  
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    Ima Fish, May 4th, 2009 @ 1:51pm

    I'm a huge fan of the Avatar series. I've watched the entire series numerous times.

    In my humble opinion Aang is not of Asian decent. He appears to be Caucasian and does not have any sort of Asian features or accent.

    Katara and Sokka both appear to have darker skin than Aang, however, their features and accents are clearly Caucasian.

    Zuko, Iroh, and Azula are clearly Asian. It appears that Zuko will be played by Dev Patel and Iroh will be played by Shaun Toub. Neither actors are Caucasian. The casting of Azula has not been announced as far as I can tell.

    To summarize, the casting fits the original show perfectly. What exactly is the problem here?

     

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  3.  
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    Ima Fish, May 4th, 2009 @ 1:54pm

    Re:

    Upon reflection, as Azula was not featured much in the first season, it is my guess that she will not even be in this first movie.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 4th, 2009 @ 1:56pm

    Its called non traditional casting but I guess that only works if you try to cast someone who isn't white.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Poster, May 4th, 2009 @ 2:01pm

    Viacom, meet the Streisand Effect.

    Streisand Effect, meet Viacom.

    You two play nice together!

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Glaze, May 4th, 2009 @ 3:04pm

    Re:

    The problem within the story is not the casting of the roles, its the BS move by Viacom or Zazzle restricting a woman of her rights to peacefully protest the casting of the movie, and make some money while doing so.

    In essence a violation of the first amendment and yet another corporate fear that the little guy is stepping on the big guys toes...

    BOO FUCKIN HOO VIACOM!

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    DJ, May 4th, 2009 @ 3:19pm

    Progression of Free Speech in America

    1782 -late 1980's
    First Amendment
    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    late 1980's - 2000ish
    Politically Correct
    "...all that still applies, just be careful not to offend anyone with what you say...."

    2000ish - Present Day
    WTF???
    "I can offend you with whatever I say, but if YOU offend ME, I'll sue you for everything that your bloodline has ever been and ever will be worth."

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Red, May 4th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    I call fair

    While its rough for the lady to have her shirts taken down, I'd call this fair use of the IP claim by viacom.

    The title she used on her shirts "The Last Airbender" is used in the title of the movie and the series by the same name, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Airbender being a term so specific to the setting it may have its own copyright (much as DnD campaign settings copyright individual made up terms or words). The phrase therefore belongs to the world setting and the company (presumably viacom) who owns the rights to that setting. It is a perfectly valid use of IP laws to stop her from selling shirts which feature their intellectual property in ways they don't approve of.

    Alternatively, if Zazzle did it without hearing from viacom, I wouldn't tall them going to far. They are preempting possible legal wrangling by not allowing people to use the IP of others in their made up products.

    Interestingly, near as I can tell, if the shirt had merely said: "Avatar: putting the Cauc back in asian" it probably would have been fine as at that point they are only words, not phrases belonging to an IP.

     

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  9.  
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    DJ, May 4th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    Re: I call fair

    I didn't bother reading the original article on this one, nor am I familiar with the series/movie.

    As such I think you have a pretty valid argument there. So my question, now, is this: Did Zazzle take the shirts down of their own accord (regardless of the reason, cuz they'd be stupid not to reserve that right in there TOS), or did Viacom PRESSURE Zazzle to take them down?

     

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  10.  
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    Jason, May 4th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    Actually...

    Zazzle clearly states in their terms regarding custom re-iterations of licensed brands:

    "No text or images that may place the brand or any of its affiliates in a negative light or which the brand does not wish to have placed on its products"

    They put it up front that it's just not their style. Also, the notice from Zazzle specifically states that it was taken down in a "routine sweep for Viacom properties." There is no indication of any action by Viacom anywhere. Everything posted by glockgal on this indicates that there was no DMCA notice.

    It seems to me this is just a simple case of a website enforcing their own stated terms of service.

    Come on, Mike - are you too distracted lately to check up on your stories? All of the above info was either on the link you provided or just one click-through beyond. This just doesn't seem like you.

     

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  11.  
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    Mike (profile), May 4th, 2009 @ 3:42pm

    Re: Actually...

    Zazzle clearly states in their terms regarding custom re-iterations of licensed brands:


    Right. But that doesn't change the questionable nature of the decision. The woman wasn't using images from Viacom. She designed them entirely on her own.

    There is no indication of any action by Viacom anywhere.

    Which I said in the post, noting that it may be that Zazzle took the content down themselves.

    That doesn't change how troubling it is.

    Come on, Mike - are you too distracted lately to check up on your stories?

    No, I read all of that. The story remains accurate.

    I didn't say it was Viacom that took it down. But I did question why either would have any reason to take these down. And I stand by that.

     

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  12.  
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    Mike (profile), May 4th, 2009 @ 3:44pm

    Re: I call fair

    The title she used on her shirts "The Last Airbender" is used in the title of the movie and the series by the same name, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Airbender being a term so specific to the setting it may have its own copyright (much as DnD campaign settings copyright individual made up terms or words). The phrase therefore belongs to the world setting and the company (presumably viacom) who owns the rights to that setting. It is a perfectly valid use of IP laws to stop her from selling shirts which feature their intellectual property in ways they don't approve of.

    Uh, no, not really. If that were the case, you could never name a brand at all in protesting something about it. If I want to say "Coke treats worker's badly" would you say that's a violation of Coke's IP?

    Alternatively, if Zazzle did it without hearing from viacom, I wouldn't tall them going to far. They are preempting possible legal wrangling by not allowing people to use the IP of others in their made up products.

    Again, it's not clear where the IP problem is at all, and Zazzle has quite clear legal protections that it has no reason to be proactive about this.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Ima Fish, May 4th, 2009 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Re:

    "The problem within the story is not the casting of the roles"

    This side story is about Viacom being a prick. There's not a lot to debate or comment about that, because it's pretty apparent that Viacom is in the wrong. Mike already covered that so there's nothing I can add.

    I was commenting on the underlying story, whether the casting is appropriate.

     

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  14.  
    icon
    Danny (profile), May 4th, 2009 @ 4:16pm

    upside

    The upside for the protesters, of course, is that the studio action gives them much more publicity than they ever would have received otherwise.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    UnanimousDelivers, May 4th, 2009 @ 4:30pm

    Re: Actually...

    Newspapers publish negative reviews all the time, make money from them, and name movies and characters in the movies that they're bashing. If what you say makes sense, the producers of Pluto Nash should sue every publication in the world for copyright infringement, simply because they didn't refer to the film as "that future movie with Eddie Murphy"

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Pixelm, May 4th, 2009 @ 4:53pm

    story was false

    turns out zazzle took this down on their own - thinking them trademark infringement; Viacom has let them know that they don't want these items removed. By now, theyshould have been reposted. If anyone hears any takedowns that don't look right, Viacom has a link on their website and are quick in reviewing them and reposting (or giving a reason).

     

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  17.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 4th, 2009 @ 5:06pm

    Free Speech

    You can't say "Church is an annoying, repetitive hack!" Because that's clearly the name of the person you were talking about! And that would be confusing to the consumer or hurried moron or something and er...

    I OWN EVERYTHING THAT REFERENCES ME!

     

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  18.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 4th, 2009 @ 5:32pm

    Re: Free Speech

    turns out zazzle took this down on their own - thinking them trademark infringement; Viacom has let them know that they don't want these items removed. By now, theyshould have been reposted. If anyone hears any takedowns that don't look right, Viacom has a link on their website and are quick in reviewing them and reposting (or giving a reason).

    Hi Pixelm. I wouldn't say the story was "false." It was entirely accurate. The issue was that Viacom didn't approve of the actions of Zazzle. That's additional info, but it doesn't make the story false. At no point did we say that Viacom demanded the content be taken down, and even noted that there was a decent chance Zazzle did it on its own.

    I've now updated the post to clarify, and I'm happy to see how Viacom responded to this issue.

     

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  19.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 4th, 2009 @ 5:42pm

    Re: story was false

    turns out zazzle took this down on their own - thinking them trademark infringement

    The fact that they would preemptively do that (and I've had experience with Cafe Press doing the same thing) is an example of the 'chilling effect' that "IP" (and trademark) has on free speech.

    Sorry, it's still a story.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 5th, 2009 @ 5:24am

    They're making an Avatar movie?

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Xanthir, FCD, May 5th, 2009 @ 5:56am

    Off-topic, but...

    I am immensely amused to see the word "Zazzle" start three consecutive lines in the post.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Matt Bennett, May 5th, 2009 @ 12:03pm

    Complaining about non-ethnic VOICE OVER actors is racist, in and of itself.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Jason, May 5th, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Actually...

    @Unanimous - Umm, what I say does make sense, but your conditional statement about it makes zero sense. How is Zazzle like a newspaper in any way, shape or form?

    @Mike - If Zazzle, a custom merchandising company, who relies on people wanting to make their own brand look good, is acting of their own accord and enforcing their own rules to uphold a "pro-brand" brand image, then more power to them. There is nothing requiring them to be activists or to facilitate the efforts of activists.

    There is certainly NOTHING troubling about that to me. There is nothing I can find in the whole story related to copyright (filed in the category error dept), and so I stand by my view that the title and the overall slant of "bogus copyright claim" is what seems bogus here.

    But yes, Mike, it is accurate (except perhaps the title), but accurate =/= true...absence of malice as it were.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Scott, May 13th, 2009 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re:

    RTFA: Viacom never asked the site to take the shirts down, and actually requested that they be put back up. Obviously they realize that a bit of peaceful protesting, carried out in a tasteful and non-threatening way does not threaten their interestes.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Scott, May 13th, 2009 @ 7:12am

    Re: Re: I call fair

    Coke is a TRADEMARK not a copyrighted work. Ditto "Avatar: The Last Airbender". The scripts and media created under the name "Avatar: The Last Airbender" are copyrighted works.

    I don't think IP applies to Trademarks. Whole different set of laws.

    Point is moot if Viacom asked Zazzle to put the shirts back on. Clearly that would indicate that Zazzle took the original action on their own.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Scott, May 13th, 2009 @ 7:15am

    Re: Re: Actually...

    I believe using titles in reviews is covered under fair use, if you're talking about copyright.

    If you're talking about trademark, no attempt has been made to infringe on the trademark in question, merely to refer to the Trademarked item.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Scott, May 13th, 2009 @ 7:18am

    Re:

    live action version of comic...

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    newest jordan shoes, Nov 9th, 2010 @ 12:19am

    newest jordan shoes

    Hey dear your blog is very much rocking and stunning. This blog has main attraction and high quality features. Due to the latest posts, this blog is relatively famous among the readers of allover the world.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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