Twilight Studio Issues Another Bogus Takedown, But Is Zazzle Partially To Blame?

from the the-plot-thickens dept

Well, this one’s weird. We recently wrote about the attempt by Summit Entertainment (the folks behind the Twilight movies) to claim ownership of a date, issuing a takedown notice over a painting by Kelly Howlett because its creation date (and title) matched a Twilight movie release date (seriously). Now, Mary Jo Place (who goes by the handle Mojo) writes to tell us about her own similar and even stranger situation, in which Summit took down some of her Zazzle merchandise because… well… that’s anyone’s guess.

The work in question is an original painting called “Sheep Are Pretty Stupid”, copies of which she was selling on a variety of merchandise through Zazzle. The products, which again have absolutely nothing to do with Twilight, had been up for a few months before she received a notice from Zazzle, telling her they had removed some of them because of a complaint from Summit. Oddly, it was only the iPhone/Pad/Pod cases that were taken down—not the t-shirts or any of the other merch, even though all the items bore identical descriptions:

Sheep Are Pretty Stupid.
Yes, they are, but you don’t have to be numbered among them! Mojo suggests you go AGAINST the crowd by buying one of her sheepie shirts. Or mugs. Or, whatever. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to paint my own Christmas card of the whole lion-and-lamb thing, only from a more, uh, realistic perspective. This is the result.

The email from Zazzle also suggested that the problem could be the search tags, but those (again shared identically by all the merchandise) were mojo, crap, craptacular, sheep, lion, and lamb. Nothing there that suggests Twilight either, except possibly crap. Understandably baffled, Mary Jo contacted Zazzle only to receive a condescending canned response informing her of their duty to abide by intellectual property law. She wrote back again, and actually linked to our coverage of the other takedown, but got nothing back. So she started digging, which brought her to Kelly Howlett’s Facebook note about her situation, where she saw something interesting in the comments—and this is where things get weird:

Since Mary Jo’s items were gone, she couldn’t check to see if she was having similar tag problems. Nevertheless she emailed Zazzle again, included screenshots of the comments and suggested that this may be what happened. A little while later, she received another canned response from Zazzle telling her the products had been restored, but still offering no explanation whatsoever.

All this creates one big question: is Zazzle doing some sort of automatic tagging, which is then triggering false takedowns? If so, that’s a pretty big mistake by Zazzle—but some cursory Googling and digging through their help forums doesn’t reveal any references to an auto-tagging or community tagging system. If any readers are Zazzle users and have experienced something similar, or have any insight into this, please share it, because nobody seems to be able to figure out what’s going on.

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Companies: summit entertainment, zazzle

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Comments on “Twilight Studio Issues Another Bogus Takedown, But Is Zazzle Partially To Blame?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: BOOooks...

The lion/lamb this is itself a reference to another book which contains many images of hate, murder, violence, bigotry, intolerance, incest, and vulgar sex.

Namely, “The HOLY Bible”

And yet the book in question is the foundation of the biggest religion in the world…

…Yeah, we’re in trouble.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And don’t forget about the series of movies based on the “books” in which the wealthy vampire who has lived for centuries and been all over the world remarkably can find nothing more interesting to do than to stare at a pasty highschool-aged girl who no one else finds remotely interesting other than resident teenaged werwolf.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why in the world has nobody sued over one of these totally false takedowns and argued that the DMCA takedown process is unconstitutional? The Internet today is far different from the way it was in 1998, and the legal landscape is also a lot different–the Supreme Court has aggressively upheld First Amendment rights several times. I’m not even a lawyer–just a lowly paralegal who’s spent their entire career on First Amendment issues–and I’m certain I could craft a fantastic argument that the DMCA takedown requirement creates unconstitutional prior restraints. To illustrate, just think how ridiculous it would be if a state passed a law allowing someone to rip signs down on other people’s property that they thought were libelous, without a court being involved. Giving private parties the power to censor speech under color of law is just as much a prior restraint as the government itself doing it. At the very least you could argue that it’s overbroad because experience has shown that even though it’s not supposed to, it does reach a substantial amount of protected speech.

MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

Another issue is the fact that they’re automating DMCA takedown notices, which means that all of the notices are fraudulent because no one with the ability to swear that the takedown notices are valid “under penalty of perjury” is actually looking at them until after the fact when they get a complaint. Letting your cat click enter to accept an EULA wouldn’t hold up in court, why would letting your bot swear that its notices are valid stand up?

Cowardly Anonymous says:

Re: Re:

Because the scheme is rather carefully crafted to target hosting sites, rather than users. The users are told they have to take it up with the site while the site is told that it will open itself to liability for user content if it doesn’t play ball.

You can’t sue the site, because the site can point to the DMCA notice. You can’t sue the issuer of the DMCA notice, because they didn’t actually take down your content.

The constitution clearly states: “Congress shall make no law such that,” rather than saying “The Courts shall not upload a law such that.” This choice was to ensure that no schemes such as the above could be set up, where an over-seeing body can be routed around. Tragically the Constitution provides no meaningful disincentive for crafting such laws, because the bill of rights was not a core part of the design, but a concession.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Anonymous needs to start ‘tagging’ other media companies with ‘infringing’ tags and watch the hilarity as the media companies automatically remove each others content from the web….

The majority of us (who read and agree with the ideas and concepts supported by this site) would probably never even notice that anything was missing….

But it sure would be entertaining…..

Anonymous Coward says:

Just a guess but if the tags are getting messed up there are only 2 explanations I can think of at the moment.

DB corruption or intentional/unintentional insertion, which includes malicious insertion by the company or someone who has access legal or illegally to their DB, a program gone ape and doing what is not supposed to and so forth, some third party in any way related to Zazzle with access to that account making the changes and he/she/it is not the user and gained access to the account through deception or hacking the website(i.e. XSS).

Is Zazzle under attack? did it get hacked and users data were stolen?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It looks like tag spamming, but the Googles have no other records of that particular string.

The fact the string ends with just the letter j makes one wonder if the coding failed. Someone tried to pump in more than the 40 tags your allowed so it just borrowed some of her space. Maybe little bobby tables visited.

Its possible Zazzle had a glitch (or is just now finding out because the person who hid it and cleaned up did just as awesome a job as they did coding it in the first place) and the downside is these people are getting beat upon for Zazzle failing.

Summit is still a buncha asshats, but it makes a bit more sense.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:


So there are Twilight copyrighted “tags” out there that no one can associate with anything or Summit gets to delete whatever content that tag pointed at? That makes no sense to me in the least. Firstly why do the item pages get nuked (assuming the items themselves are not infringing) and not just the objectionable tag, and second, identifying tag information (usually one or two words) seem more like a Trademark issue than Copyright. Can you Copyright a single English word; or a date for that matter?

I don’t care that Zazzle may be using bots to put bad tags on stuff, that’s a company policy issue that should get worked out because it makes their search product less valuable to customers. I’m mystified that DMCA take-downs are getting issued because of ambiguous metadata keywords, not because of infringing content.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Whh...what?

Right, which brings up the question of why automated takedowns are even legal. Comments like MrWilsons about machines “swearing” that notices are valid, but end up being perjury, bring that issue to light.

I’d really like to see the EFF or ACLU get on the case for a bunch of these little guys and HAMMER the false notice companies to the full extent of the DMCA. I bet that would send some execs running to unplug their auto-filing bots.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Whh...what?

Having read the correspondence, I can’t see any reference to a DMCA takedown notice in Zazzle’s missives. It’s likely they have an automated takedown arrangement with Summit and that, if they have clarified / have to clarify why this piece was taken down, it would for unauthorised use of their marks. Which is not unreasonable if its tags were similar to those apparently autogenerated above.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Whh...what?

Hmm, perhaps you’re right. The blog title at says ‘DMCA’ so that just got stuck in my head, but the actual missive from Zazzle just says it’s an “infringement claim by Summit.” That might also explain how the pages went back up without an actual counter-notice being filed.

In any case it’s not clear what’s going on and both of these companies need to be more clear an straightforward about what their practices are. It’s looking more and more like Zazzle is to blame for voluntarily censoring its users (and bad database management) which isn’t so much a legal problem, but their users need to vote with their feet if that’s the case.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Nothing there that suggests Twilight either, except possibly crap.”


Anyway, whoever’s to blame this is just another example of why automatic this process is very bad idea. Follow copyright rules and sell perfectly legit material? Tough, a 3rd party just caused your material to be removed anyway because a corporation wants to protect itself at all costs. Want compensation? Pay a lawyer, we don’t care…

WolfmanSmith (profile) says:

Zazzle won't let me use my own artwork of 1930's criminals

I just sent Zazzle a message via their tech geeks (since they no longer have a customer support link at the bottom of their site) to cancel my account. I tried to create some promotional products for my book on the 1930’s Barker-Karpis gang, and they gave me a lame a** excuse that I couldn’t put my own original portraits of these gangsters on Zippo lighters because they depict “celebrities”. They’re f’ing stupid. I’m completely fed up with them, and just deleted all of my images a bit ago. But then had to go in circles to unsuccessfully find a customer support link that is no longer there.

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