Saturday, November 05, 2005

IP protection comes close to a chilling effect

Thanks to Brandy for this story.

CafePress is an online service that allows visitors to upload their own artwork that can then be printed, for a price, on various things like t-shirts and mugs. Often, the artwork created and uploaded by visitors parodies commercial advertising, political figures, or is just plain funny.

Places like this need to be aware of any creative works uploaded to its servers that may infringe on existing copyrights or trademarks because such places may themselves be held responsible for contributory infringement or under a vicarious liability theory, separate and apart from the individual who submitted the work for reproduction, if subsequent works using the questionable IP are sold by that place. --(How's that for a sentence?)-- Owners of such works have every right to stop someone profiting from a copyrighted work without prior permission or misusing a trademark. Interestingly, CafePress was apparently zealously enforcing its "Copyright, Trademark and Intellectual Property Guidelines," specifically the provisions related to prohibited content, when it removed merchandise using the logo of an entirely fictional product and company. The fake site is well done and really quite funny, especially the "IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION." I always admire someone who really puts effort and thought into poking fun at the unquestioned norm.

After a brief email exchange later from the creators of the fake product and logo, CafePress allowed the artwork back on its site. Apparently "no harm, no foul," since the product is back up for sale, but I wonder if the creators lost any potential revenue from the products not being available. Also, would anyone who reads about this story be discouraged from doing something similar in the future for fear of being "taken down" or otherwise pursued for IP infringement?

The creators of the artwork in question apparently do a lot of parody both in actual print and online, so I doubt they'll be discouraged from doing this again in the future. Since the artwork depicts an entirely made-up product, the only copyright or trademark the creators are exploiting is their own.

-- a quick aside -- don't you hate it when you germinate an idea for a blog post, develop and nurture it, and then realize that the initial point you want to make as summarized in your always witty and descriptive post title isn't really a point at all? anyway, I'm going with it. we can't withdraw now, or the blog will collapse upon itself in the throes of civil war!

My point is that in the current litigation-happy culture in which we live, entities that sell and publish products and works must necessarily police their content, lest owners of IP come knocking with cease-and-desist orders, subpoenas or lawsuits. CafePress was certainly within its rights to question whether any IP right was being infringed by the artwork above, especially considering how well-done and professional the product and background appears to be, but how about doing just a bit of reading after a quick online search before pulling product down, eh?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eat your veggies. From your Mother