Zazzle Sued Because Twilight Fans Like Making Their Own Merchandise

from the safe-harbors-anyone? dept

It looks like “print-on-demand/create your own t-shirt/mug/mouse pad store” company Zazzle has been sued for infringement by Summit Entertainment, who owns the licensing rights to the oh-so-popular Twilight movies. Apparently, all those excited tweens have been making their own Twilight merchandise. Now, basic common sense would tell you that Zazzle is the tool provider, and not the actual infringer here. But, Summit is claiming trademark violations, and (tragically and inexplicably) the official safe harbors cover things like copyright and defamation, but not trademark (hurray for legal loopholes). The only ones doing the actual infringement are the users, not Zazzle itself, but Zazzle has to hope that a court actually realizes this, and sometimes the courts get very, very confused on these sorts of things.

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Companies: zazzle

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Comments on “Zazzle Sued Because Twilight Fans Like Making Their Own Merchandise”

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Ryan says:

Re: But...

Zazzle isn’t selling Twilight items, they’re selling users the ability to create their own merchandise – Twilight doesn’t actually have anything to do with Zazzle’s business model. And like Jesse, I can’t fathom how users are infringing on the trademark here, either. They’re just writing “Twilight” on a t-shirt or something, they’re selling them; if that was infringement, then we have a whole boatload of free speech issues here.

It appears rather clear to me that there is no legitimate trademark claim here…

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: But...

“…Zazzle didn’t just provide a program. They actually print and sell these items.”

Yeah, and if I owned a shop I’d sell you a t-shirt with “Rose M. Welch” printed on it. If “Rose M. Welch” turns out to be copyrighted by some company or other, it should be on your ass. Not mine.

Welcome to the ownership society. Have you staked your claim yet?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

In Other News

I make a collage of Harry Potter images, glued to a piece of cardstock paper using Elmer’s Glue. Elmer sued by JK Rowlings.

My daughter buys art supplies from the retailer Michael’s, and makes her own Wonder Woman Halloween costume. Michael’s sued by Silver Pictures.

A guy stores shared Metallica music on an HP hard drive, plays it on his HP computer, burns a new CD copy in his HP burner, prints a CD page on his HP printer. HP sued by Metallica.

A policeman arrives at the scene of a reported bank robbery. A masked man takes a bag of money from the teller. Turns out it’s not a robber, just a guy making a withdrawal. So the policeman shoots the bank manager.

All equally logical. As in, not very.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: In Other News

So you think some human at Zazzle lovingly accepts the job order, does a full check to make sure no content is copyright, checking all sources of copyright images, animations, words, etc, runs it past the lawyers for sign-off, hand-holds it personally through the production process, and ships it off?

Or do you suppose it’s machine-produced with maybe 20 seconds of a minumum-wage associate feeding the blank shirt into the machine?

Zazzle doesn’t design the t-shirt, and aren’t responsible for the design. Zazzle itself is just a tool, as is an HP printer

Carl (profile) says:

re: Suing over free advertising?

I’m telling ya–go to and you’ll see that user-generated Twilight shirts are a large part of their current business model. I’ll bet that this is a large part of this because whether or not it is genuine copyright infringement, that is probably the most threatened aspect of the shirts appearing on Zazzle.

Freedom says:


It was my understanding that Zazzle gives you a small cut of every sale of any item that you create that someone else buys. So, if you create a mug of XYZ and someone else wants the same mug you get your 10 cents sort of thing.

Interestingly, I believe some people actually make a lot of money doing this – to the tune of 100k if my source is right.

I think this is probably where the grey line is. You can create it for your own use is fine ??? but you start making money off it and it involves trademark type material, then the line isn’t so clear.


Ryan says:

Re: Licensing...

That…makes it very interesting. Zazzle just provided the tool to sell user-created content and didn’t have any creative discretion, so they aren’t liable for trademark infringement. The users don’t actually sell any of the items they designed, so they can’t be liable.

It seems to me that there still shouldn’t be any trademark infringement because buyers should recognize if they’re on the site that these are not official Twilight merchandise, which eliminates the need for trademark protection. However, perhaps some feature such as the “official” seal on twitter to indicate legitimate items would end any doubt–I suppose I could accept a law that required something of the sort in exceptions like this.

skatersollie (profile) says:

I don't think it's that simple

I am a fellow zazzler. In part it has to do with how the money changes hands and how the service is provided. I read in a previous comment that HP is a printer and shouldn’t be sued, but they are not servicing what is being protected. T-shirts sounds a little trivial, but as a hypthetical let’s use counterfeiting real money. Let’s say printer company A has the “tools” to counterfeit money. User A doesn’t have any tools so he goes to company A and asked for a counterfeit in exchange for an exchange rate. Now who does the Government go after? Probably both, but they’d want to go after the guys who actually have the equipment more than the end user. If anyone or company can say “i didn’t know” as an excuse I think 99% of the population would set up shop. T-shirts seem trivial, but behind the tshirts is real dollars

clig73 says:

I think almost everyone is missing the point here

It’s not about a legal claim on a word or words. What we’re talking about here is intellectual property copyright. Just because the typography is different than what you see on the book covers, these shirts that say “Twilight” are very clearly meant to be THAT “Twilight”, and not just the phenomenon whereby day turns to night.

For fans to make their own home-made products as a sign of appreciation is one thing (no money changes hands, then no-harm-no-foul). The problem here is that by SELLING the merchandise without being licensed, the owner of said copyright doesn’t receive their due royalties. Now, if Stephanie Meyers didn’t care about that, there’s such a thing as Creative Commons Licensing, which can give permission for non-commercial usage of copyrighted/trademarked stuff for the fans, or even full commercial rights, if the legal owner so chooses. Since Twilight is in fact NOT licensed under Creative Commons, Ms. Meyer demonstrates that she DOES care, and would rather get paid royalties if anyone is making money off her creations (title, characters and concepts alike).

Here is where Zazzle’s culpability comes in: they are not selling these items on behalf of their users out of the goodness of their own heart for no profit– they do in fact make money off this. Furthermore, because they’re not just selling the items but actually MAKING them, they are 100% complicit in the bootlegging process.

Take skatersollie’s analogy:
Scenario 1) you hire “Company A” to print counterfeit currency for you on their equipment, you’re both in the hot seat.
Scenario 2) You BUY a printing press from “Company A”, then use it to make counterfeit currency, that’s all on you– they just sold you the equipment, they were not directly involved in the crime.

Zazzle is CLEARLY in scenario 2 here. They can try and claim no fault for their users’ violation of copyright, but since they’re the ones actually MANUFACTURING this stuff, they should really know better. They’re clearly turning a blind eye to the infringement for profit.

chromo (user link) says:

Good article.

Good article. Personally, i believe that in order to succeed you should give equal attention to making HIGH QUALITY design, and promoting your store. If your products are good – you’ll succeed in the long run, but to speed up this succession – you should put half of your time in promoting the store.
Here’s my gallery. promoting, remember? (:*

paintball gear (profile) says:

gonna disagree this time

I think zaz actually is liable this time because I could-

-upload a picture of the movie poster
-buy a shirt with this on it (bad, but not terrible)
-list it for sale for others to buy (now we’re pretty much infringing).

At step 3, zazzle is selling merchandise to the public with unlicensed works on them. This is where they have to be careful what they allow to be sold.

On the other hand, zazzle also has an easy mechanism to report these items as trademark infringement, and they’ll take them off the site quickly. I know, I’ve had stuff removed for this, even for a frivilous reason.

paintball gear (profile) says:

In Other News

Derek, zazzle allows you to list your product you created on their public ecommerce site, and sell it to others. So, they could potentially be selling thousands of copies of of images taken directly from a movie cover or similar direct source. I agree that printing one item for yourself is one thing, but posting a product online for everyone to purchase does require they be more careful.

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