Zazzle Blocks '1-Star Review' Mug, Gets Even Worse Review From Instapaper Creator

from the coffee-filters dept

In yet another example of overactive copyright law blocking legitimate content, we find this story from Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, about Zazzle’s abrupt and unfriendly treatment of its supposedly (but not actually) infringing customers.

Marco, who is no stranger to copyright concerns, recently used Zazzle to sell a jokey mug based on bad reviews of Instapaper:

Later in the day, after the mug had racked up 116 sales, all the customers were told that their orders had been cancelled because the mug violates Zazzle’s acceptable use policy—apparently the “design contains an image or text that may be subject to copyright.”

May be subject to copyright? Anything and everything may be subject to copyright. If that’s the bar they’re using to determine what’s allowed on Zazzle, nothing will exist there at all. Besides, usually when you come across something that may have a problem you check to find out if it actually does. But that’s not what happened here.

Meanwhile, Marco himself got nothing—Zazzle gave him no explanation at all. Of course, it’s important to pick your battles, and even though Marco knows damn well there’s no issue of this “maybe” infringing (there is no infringement), he has no intention of fighting this. Instead he’s opted to send a message on his (quite popular) blog:

“Now I just know that Zazzle sucks, and I’ll never do business with them again.”

And, because Zazzle may suck, perhaps you won’t want to do business with them either.

It’s not entirely clear what led to Zazzle cancel the orders, but since Marco was never informed about a complaint, it was probably an automated filter, possibly with some lax human review. But computers aren’t very good at identifying copyright infringement, and neither are most people‐not even rightsholders themselves. That’s not really surprising, since copyright law is insanely complex, but online services that feature user-generated content still face all sorts of pressure from various industries, insisting they somehow magically detect and stop all infringement. Some cooperate, so you end up with overactive filters that inevitably block all sorts of legitimate content—then you end up with rightfully pissed off customers complaining in public.

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Companies: instapaper, zazzle

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Comments on “Zazzle Blocks '1-Star Review' Mug, Gets Even Worse Review From Instapaper Creator”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I use CafePress, when I first upped the images of my site’s mascots they were concerned (since they’re anime-style art and apparently they get a lot of copyright infringement) but once I explained to them that they were original characters and I owned the copyrights there was no problem. As I recall they never actually took my shop down, just gave me a warning that my artwork might be a copyright infringement and I needed to contact them. Took less than 5 minutes to get straightened out.

While CafePress isn’t perfect, Zazzle’s really making them look stellar here of late. I’d say go with them over Zazzle any day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Marcus, deep and meaningful review of the situation. You could have maybe emailed to Zazzle to ask their feedback, or perhaps asked darkdemon118 what he thought.

As always, you add nothing, and report a half a story. Impressive. Not quite enough outrage though, your Mike-abee personality isn’t completely made yet.

[citation needed or GTFO] says:

Re: You're too easy to identify these days...

Challenge: On a new article by Leigh, start a new thread that doesn’t involve the following:

-any form of the word “pirate”
-any reference to search engines
-any gay jokes

Failure to do so just adds more evidence toward your unsatisfied stalker lust toward Marcus. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You're too easy to identify these days...

Let’s go down the list:

(Marcus): Since “Leigh” is Marcus, I don’t get your point.

(Mike): He runs this place and sets the tone. I don’t get your point.

(freetard): It’s what Marcus is – even as he works at a job paid for by copyright.

(pirate): Marcus and Mike both support piracy, although Mike will weasel and say he doesn’t. Facts are facts, why not apply them?

(search engines):

(gay jokes): I will refrain from pointing out that Marcus is his own little gay joke. Other than that, I don’t generally make gay jokes. See bunny above.

“unsatisfied stalker lust toward Marcus”

I have no stalker lust for Marcus. I just think he is a whiny, self-important asshole that needs to get taken down a notch on a regular basis, to remind him that he is, after all, just another idiotic keyboard warrior. If he gets smarter, I will leave him alone. Until then, I will keep reminding him just how full of crap he really is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Or, you could try to act like you know what you are talking about before kneejerking.

To quote the linked blog post:

” It?s a custom design I created to amuse myself. The review is fictional, but it?s based on quotes from actual Instapaper reviews.”

I doubt the “user” is a real user, and the “quotes” are, as stated, based on actual reviews of his service. I’m gonna go out a limb and say he didn’t use direct copies of what people said. Plus, the review refers to the mug itself.

Not quite sure why you are so bent, except maybe you have a crush on Leigh. If so, damn, own up to it and let yourself enjoy the feeling.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Marcus, deep and meaningful review of the situation. You could have maybe emailed to Zazzle to ask their feedback, or perhaps asked darkdemon118 what he thought.

As always, you add nothing, and report a half a story. Impressive. Not quite enough outrage though, your Mike-abee personality isn’t completely made yet.

Leigh will learn the outrage in time. Darth Masnick isn’t done with his tutelage yet.

Anonymous Coward, Esq. says:

Sign of the times

Can you blame Zazzle? You can?t take a dump these days with out some sleazebag lawyer popping out from behind your toilet demanding a royalty. Like Mike says, IP is crushing innovation. In the not too distant future, no one in the U.S. will create anything for fear of being sued.

a sad dude (profile) says:

Re: Sign of the times

Oh yes we can. Which law exactly requires you to cancel the orders because there may be some infringement?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but even a received DMCA notice requires the provider to only render the content inacessible until the issue is resolved. Proactive denial of service to paying customers just because someone may file one in the future is not just cowardly, it’s plain stupid.

Oh well, at least they didn’t delete anything.

Lyle Verbilion (user link) says:

my zazzle experience...

I tried selling a t-shirt thru Zazzle. It was a poorly drawn picture of a skull, with bushy hair and mustache. The caption read: “They Saved Einstein’s Hair-Do”. After about a year, Zazzle took it off their market. Apparently The Hebrew University of Jerusalem trademarked Albert’s name and asked for my item to be removed after a regularly-scheduled scan. I was flabbergasted and frustrated. (Flustergrated?) But really, what can you expect Zazzle to do? *They* don’t employ a stable of lawyers. That makes them the good guys, right?

Dave (profile) says:

Re: Re:

@Jasmine(wow, it’s like we’re having a conversation now! The power of @!)

Really? Is this a hard and fast rule? Are there degrees to it? Can I write a book that mentions Disneyland without their permission? Can I take a picture of a street that has McDonald’s on it somewhere and then put it on my blog? Can I sell a new soft drink and say it is 89% funner than Coke?

Do the 260 registered trademarks with the name ‘Jasmine’ mean you can’t use that name when you post? Not commercial you say? Could it prevent you from publishing your autobiography and naming it ‘Jasmine’? (You’ll have to do the search yourself if you want to verify that. It wouldn’t let me link.)

It’s the idiot idea that “trademark = all your words are belong to us” that make lawyers money and suffocates legitimate business. It needs to die.

Emagnum (profile) says:

I immediatly saw the issue, not even worthy of a blog post. Google Buzz is trademarked, you can’t use it. You can’t say Walt Disney World loves this, Facebook owes me money, Volkswagon sponsored me, etc. Change the Google Buzz to something else not trademarked or get permission from google to use it (ha) and the order would go through. How would you like people using your name/image to make money off a “jokey” image? Not even an arguable “fair use” defense here.

Pete Austin says:

Zazzle reconsidered and it's back

“UPDATE 2, April 11: In response to people yelling at them on Twitter, Zazzle reexamined this case tonight, determined that the mug was fine, and cleared it for sale. And if you use coupon-code USELESSMUG50, you?ll get it for 50% off with free shipping, a huge overall price reduction. So if you?d still like it, it?s now available again.”

balaknair (profile) says:

google buzz

@jasmine, rooky, emagnum
Google Buzz may be trademarked, but what does that have to do with this case? Zazzle says the image or text may violate copyright, not trademark.
Besides, even in trademark law, I doubt it’d be a violation to mention the name of a discontinued product as 2 words in an entire paragraph. The product in question os not

Jemma Evans says:


I tried to get a drawing of Daisy Duck that my daughter had done put on a fridge magnet as a gift for a relative (it was not uploaded to sell) and my whole order was cancelled (not just the daisy Duck image), Zazzle didn’t bother to tell me my order was cancelled, when I contacted them to find out where my gifts were it took several emails for them to tell me the drawing my daughter had done ‘may’ be subject to copyright and therefore they had cancelled the whole order. This was a child’s drawing being put on to one fridge magnet for personal use. I think their content department is a bit over zealous and their customer service department couldn’t care less about customers.

Art_T (profile) says:

cafe press fair use

I have had a series of anti corporate products at cafe press for years. Both Monsanto and Blackwater (now Xe) have made attempts at pulling the designs ( which include their logos or distorted versions of such). Cafe press let me know, and sent me a notificaton each time, giving me the option to remove the art myself. After I called the provided number and talked to the cafe press person (the first time this happened), who explained the situation, I chose not to remove my art.

At that, cafe press sent a legal response to the company, quoting chapter and verse from particular cases supporting my use of their names and logos as political speech. In two different attempts by Monsanto, and one by Blackwater (Xe), the corporations backed down, and my products have been selling for years. I have yet to have any art pulled from cafe press.

I can’t say enough about cafe press and their support for fair use. I did not need to plead or argue, and they had the case work on file and sent it without me having to demand my rights. I wish they had the modern online functions of Zazzle, a better share on their “marketplace” sales, and the high tech production and product line Zazzle has – but my experience shows me I am secure in their support of speech and fair use.

After reading about Zazzle, I have to wonder if the fancy gadgets and products are actually worth the hassle. Hardly seems a good choice to have the best product line, if the shop will be closed at the first complaint. The law is NOT that complicated, and most complaints are simply attempts to widen the corporate turf into areas that are NOT protected – in other words: bullying (my brother worked for the firm protecting Disney for a while – so I know how typical this is). From the stories, Zazzle appears to be either lazy, gutless, or both. Not someone you want to build with – a shaky foundation, so to speak.

Just to be fair, does anyone know of a story of Zazzle SUPPORTING fair use or political speech? Anyone?

anartist (user link) says:

the same thing was done to me and lawyer said . .

justanswer lawyer said that a copyright on the “color bars” was probably unenforceable but i got the same bs “may be subject to . . .” on a mug I designed and purchased just to check quality [url link is to my blog with mug image and absurd correnspondence]:

ORDER CANCELLATION NOTICE – Please modify your design(s) and re-order.

Hello anartist,

Thank you for your recent order: 131-33908243-4361760.

Unfortunately, we are unable to process your order due to a conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines.

As a result, the following item(s) cannot be produced:

Title: NTSC colors mug
Product Link: 168118597452063660
Result: Not Approved
Content Notes:
— Design contains an image or text that may be subject to copyright. If you are interested in purchasing Official Licensed Merchandise from Zazzle please visit:

In keeping with our content guidelines, we had no choice but to cancel the entire order. When we cancelled your order, we released the authorized funds back into the account used to make your purchase. You can expect the returning funds to be available in your account within the next 7-10 business days, depending on the processing speed of the financial institution that authorized the initial transaction.

Although we could not complete your order as it was originally placed, we have saved your item(s) so that you can modify the design and place a new order. To modify and re-order your design(s), simply follow the instructions below. You may need to log in first.

Click on the product link(s) above to view your Zazzle product(s).
Modify the design of your Zazzle product(s) to comply with our content guidelines.
Add your modified Zazzle product(s) to your shopping cart, along with any other products you wish to purchase, and proceed to check out.

If you would like to expedite the production of your new order, simply email with your new Order ID number in the subject line, and we’ll have your order processed as quickly as possible.

If you used a promo code in your original order, or if you have any questions or concerns about the review of your product(s), please email us at and we’ll be happy to provide you with a replacement code or any additional support.

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