writes "I regularly read a blog called "Knock Off Wood" -- a site where a woman teaches readers how to build various designer-looking pieces of furniture at home for a lot less. It's the best kind of "maker" site - someone who is passionate about crafting, freely sharing their passion with a community of readers and everyone learns a little something. So when Williams Sonoma, Inc (owner of Pottery Barn and West Elm among others) sent them a legal nastygram, the owner of the site was entertained more than anything."
The company is alleging both trademark and copyright violations -- though it's difficult to see either one holding up. Unfortunately the woman who runs the site decided it was easier to just cave in, but that's unfortunate. Doing so encourages more bullying. The trademark claims are ridiculous. They say that by mentioning specific product names, she's implying that "the website is somehow affiliated" with WSI. But, of course, any moron in a hurry knows that's not true. The whole site clearly states it's about making knock-off furniture
. No one is going to go to this site and think it's actually affiliated with WSI, or any of the other brand name furniture companies.
The copyright claim is equally questionable. At issue is that she's using the copyrighted images of WSI's furniture as part of the blog posts about how to make that type of furniture. But that seems like it should be a clear cut case of fair use. If you run through the four factors of fair use, it's hard to see how this is infringement:
- the purpose and character of your use
The question here is if the use is somehow transformative or being used to build something new. But one of the questions usually asked in judging this factor is: "Was value added to the original by creating new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings?" It seems like an entire blog post around how to build that kind of furniture certainly qualifies. This one is in favor of fair use.
- the nature of the copyrighted work
Well, they're photographs, but they were used in catalogs and such, not for sale. So that would seem to, again, lend to a fair use ruling. The original purpose of the photos was that they were to be seen widely.
the amount and substantiality of the portion taken
Indeed, it sounds like the "entire" photo was used, so you might be able to weigh this factor against fair use, but not necessarily. As we've seen in multiple lawsuits, even if you're using the entirety of the work, it can be considered fair use if the purpose is so completely different from the original -- which, in this case, is definitely true.
- the effect of the use upon the potential market.
Now, some might argue that the use here might harm the market for WSI furniture since it's teaching people how to build their own, but that shouldn't apply here. The test is for the potential market of the copyrighted work. That is, this factor should not take into account the impact on the market for the furniture itself, but just on the market for the photographs. And it's difficult to see any harm done here at all.
So going through all of that, it's difficult to see how this isn't a clear cut fair use case. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the woman didn't want to fight the legal battle and agreed to just take down the images and mentions of WSI. However, she is amused
that a housewife in Alaska has brought out the legal attack dogs of a giant retailer.