By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
June 30, 2017

Sometimes good triumphs evil. Happy Friday, Aaron in for Adam, who is on vacation. Speaking of which, we at Data Sheet will be off after this issue until Wednesday, July 5.

But back to good versus evil. Well, not evil, really, but more bureaucratic, legalistic b.s.

I mentioned earlier this week that the brilliant blog McMansionHell had gone off the air after receiving a cease and desist letter from Zillow. It seems that the Johns Hopkins grad student and part-time architecture critic Kate Wagner, who writes the blog, had been snagging pictures from the real estate listing service to illustrate her posts, angering some copyright lawyers somewhere.

But there could hardly be a clearer case of fair use, as Wagner both critiques and parodies the copyrighted works she is borrowing, which my colleague Jeff John Roberts astutely pointed out on Tuesday.

Well, the good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation came to Wagner’s defense. The group penned a lengthy letter to Zillow pointing out that Wagner was within her rights using the photos, and offering its own long blocks of legalese (“To the extent Zillow’s claim is premised on an alleged violation of its Terms of Use or other contractual obligations, federal courts have rejected such theories as a premise for liability…blah blah blah”).

On Thursday, Zillow seemingly backed down, announcing it had “decided not to pursue any legal action against Kate Wagner and McMansion Hell.”

But look a little deeper, and you’ll learn that Wagner pledged to stop using photos from Zillow. She’ll continue the blog but get her illustrations elsewhere. I wouldn’t criticize Wagner for moving to end this controversy and getting back to writing her awesome blog posts, but it does take away the glow of a great win for free speech and fair use on the Internet.

So have a great weekend and a great 4th of July holiday, but maybe tamp down the celebration of the big victory for the rights of architecture critics.

Aaron Pressman


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