The Orwellian Story About CafePress Takedowns By Orwell's Estate… Was Really CafePress Screwing Up
from the perhaps-it's-more-kafkaesque-than-orwellian dept
If you were online last week, you probably heard the story about how the George Orwell Estate supposedly had issued a takedown to CafePress for some T-shirts made by a guy named Josh Hadley that merely showed the year “1984” on them. I first saw it when someone pointed me to Hadley’s Facebook post about it, in which he’s quite reasonably angry. This was the T-shirt image that Hadley said was taken down:
But it didn’t stop the takedown from happening… and from people angrily piling on against the estate. It took a while to get the complete story, and Hamilton was bizarrely reticent to share the details of what happened with me, other than to insist he did not send a takedown for that T-shirt, but rather for a mug that he insisted was “obviously infringing.” I kept asking for the specific takedown, saying we’d be happy to put up a story showing that he was blameless, but he refused to share it. CafePress was similarly slow to respond — and eventually would do nothing more than say “no comment.” Eventually, we were able to get a copy of Hamilton’s original takedown message, which was a bit vague, and just discussed a photograph of Orwell that another account was using, and some extensive quotes that were made to look like “official” licensed merchandise — such that the takedown was a slightly vague combination trademark/copyright/publicity rights takedown.
Dear Lindsey Moore,
Your Orwell merchandise has been brought to my attention as the literary executor to the Orwell estate, responsible for all licensing and copyright. The Orwell estate does not license merchandise, and the quotes you use and the photograph of Orwell are in breach of copyright. Please remove from sale immediately.
I look forward to hearing by return.
A M Heath & Co Ltd
6 Warwick Court
London WC1R 5DJ
Yes, the takedown message is a bit vague (Moore, if you’re wondering — whose first name is actually Lindsay, not Lindsey — is CafePress’s intellectual property agent). An official DMCA takedown notice requires the specific identification of what is infringing, and Hamilton’s note fails that test. The proper thing for a company to do is to reject the deficient notice, and let the sender know that they need to file a compliant takedown notice. CafePress did not do that, and apparently just started taking down Orwell/1984 products at random. However, it does appear that the target was not Hadley’s T-shirts, but rather than actually assessing whether or not anyone’s rights were violated CafePress just went on a crazy takedown binge and pulled down what appears to be anything even loosely connected to Orwell/1984. And Hadley’s T-shirts got caught in the crossfire.
And then CafePress refused to admit it made a mistake.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve written about CafePress overreacting and taking down lots of stuff over which there was no legitimate takedown. The whole situation seems rather ridiculous, and even worse is that CafePress sat there and let the Orwell Estate take the heat for its actions. It seems that, once again, if you’re looking for a print-on-demand partner, CafePress is not your best choice.
While many have reported on this story as the Orwell Estate being Orwellian, the truth here seems more like CafePress being Kafkaesque.