Johns Hopkins Student Stirs Controversy With Images Posted To Tumblr Blog

Zillow, a leading real estate marketplace, has alleged that a Johns Hopkins student violated the Copyright Act. Kate Wagner, a Johns Hopkins architecture student, utilized Zillow images on her parody Tumblr blog and website “McMansion Hell.

According to Zillow, Wagner modified the images in a way poke fun at the properties, adding comments like “black hole,” “doors & windows: divorced just like mommy & daddy,” “seriously do any of these windows match????” and “doors to nowhere.”

However, Zillow is not laughing, but instead taking the action as a real threat. On Monday, Zillow sent Wagner a cease and desist letter for allegedly “reproducing, modifying, distributing or otherwise creating derivative” images from the real estate firm’s website and utilizing them on her website. The company says the act may “[interfere] with Zillow’s business expectations and interests.”Wagner is also violating terms-of-service rules and a federal hacking statute, according to Zillow.

Wagner took to Twitter after receiving the cease and desist letter, saying she was “terrified” and feared losing her primary source of income.

Wagner has until 5:00 p.m. Thursday to respond to the letter.

Once media got involved, Zillow’s vice president of communications and public affairs, Katie Curnutte, contacted by Wagner via email to inform her the company does not own the copyright of many of the images on its website. So, Wagner’s use of the images is as good as covered by the “fair use” doctrine, which allows limited use of some copyrighted materials for news reporting, criticism, research and teaching.

Lawyers and a copyright professor have offered to help Wagner, if Zillow pursues the matter further.

The following statement was sent to several media outlets:

“We are asking this blogger to take down the photos that are protected by copyright rules, but we did not demand she shut down her blog and hope she can find a way to continue her work,” Zillow wrote.

McMansion Hell posted an official statement on Twitter:

“Thank you to everyone who has offered their advice and their help regarding this issue. The goal of McMansion Hell has always been to educate people about architecture in an entertaining way. Regardless of what happens, I plan on continuing on in the spirit of that vision. Architecture is an amazing and intricate field I firmly believe everyone should have access to learning about, one McMansion Hell aimed to teach through a landscape we are all familiar and emotionally invested in: the suburbs.”

“Regarding the notice from Zillow: First of all, I would like to state that I am currently seeking legal counsel as to how best respond to this claim. I posted about the claim online to seek advice as to how to best deal with this issue. My intent in posting this information was not to hard the reputation of Zillow.com, but to try and find help about how to respond to this issue in the most effective and respectful way. This blog (and the freelancing gigs I’ve received because of it) has been my livelihood for a little under a year now, so receiving a notice like this, is of course utterly terrifying. There have been no major issues regarding copyright complaints regarding the blog until this moment. It is my most sincere hope that this issue is resolved as amicably as possible,” the post read.

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