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Cafepress: Copyright Cops

PanexafrontI've had only good things to say about working with Cafepress in the past but this time they are out of control.

After a reader sent me a note wondering what happened to our Panexa merchandise, I noticed that Cafepress has removed it due to copyright and trademark infringement! (T-shirt front pictured at right; click for t-shirt back or mug) For those of you unfamiliar with Panexa, it's a fake drug that Jason came up with to parody pharmaceutical advertising. He created a webpage and everything.

Apparently, one of the genuises in Cafepress's police division thinks Panexa is an actual product and that we are infringing. I sent Cafepress an email about this and am awaiting a response. In the meantime, I found this notice on the company's site:

Generally parody, like Fair Use, is a difficult and murky concept, even for experts, and you should consult with an attorney before using copyrighted or trademark material in connection with the service.

What I find galling is that Cafepress doesn't even give you a chance to consult an attorney! The company makes an arbitrary decision on its own and then it's up to you to argue them out of it. Grrrr. Fuck 'em.

UPDATE: CafePress has restored the Panexa merchandise. The matter has been amicably resolved, so, um, unfuck 'em.

Posted by carrie on 11/02/2005 | Permalink



The silliness is endless, isn't it?

Posted by: Robin | Nov 2, 2005 5:50:30 PM

well! props to Jason for fooling the cybercops!

Posted by: peregrin8 | Nov 2, 2005 6:05:35 PM

The drug 'instructions/warnings' are brilliant. Especially like the special warning for squirrels.

Posted by: ken | Nov 3, 2005 5:08:54 AM

The same thing happened to me. I have a parody of Bush - American Idle. Note that it is not "Idol"

They sent me an email that it had been removed. After a couple more email exchanges I called and made my case. The next day I got an email saying it had been restored.

They were pretty nice about it, actually, and they did end up seeing it my way. But it was still a bit annoying.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 3, 2005 5:48:25 AM

Odd. Only one way to show them, take your business elsewhere.

Spreadshirt offer a similar service, and IMO, a much better one.

Posted by: Kevin Cannon | Nov 3, 2005 6:45:22 AM

I have to agree they are quick to take down all sorts of "infringing" material, but so far, they've also been nice enough to reply quickly when I complained. E.g. I once made a Firefox logo t-shirt, they took it down, and then I send them a page where it said people can promote Firefox using the logo, and then they send me back a page which said "... only for non-commercial/ personal reasons" -- so in the end they were right, but they still offered me to put the Firefox shirt live again for me to make personal orders only.

Once, I made a black pie with missing piece on a yellow shirt... and they took it down. Here's the image:
Apparently, this infringes on Pac-man copyrights, but hey... what's the world coming to if you can't draw a pie anymore?

I think they must defend themselves from copyright infringements, they could be made responsible too. So when they take something down quickly and force you to "opt-in" again by emailing them, maybe it's their only pragmatic choice. What do you think are the chances of emailing 10,000 users per day telling them "can you please review this shirt and elaborate to us the copyright details"... and getting *back* a reply for all that in 24 hours?
The Panexa case stated here was an incrtedibly stupid mistake, of course, and they shouldn't repeat such things too often.

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen | Nov 3, 2005 8:32:50 AM

Thanks for all the comments and traffic.
We do this as a part of our marketing strategy. Our data has shown that removing and reinstating sells more merchandise.
Please contact us if you want any other products to be removed from the listing.

Posted by: Cafepress | Nov 3, 2005 12:08:10 PM

Funny, "Cafepress". Fake, but funny.

Posted by: Charles Star | Nov 3, 2005 12:21:08 PM

Perhaps you should print up some Panexa letterhead, and use it to correspond with Cafepress on this matter.

Posted by: Western Infidels | Nov 3, 2005 12:53:41 PM

They give you a chance to find an attorney: After they have removed themselves from a possibly problematic situation.

Instead of pissing and moaning about it like it's an enormous affront to civilization, why don't you consider what it's like (just for a second, honest) to run a business like theirs? I'd err on the side of safety every single time too.

You say "Fuck 'em". If I ran and had a customer too impatient and lacking in perspective to give me a bit to re-review the content before spewing all over a blog, I'd say "Fuck you" and switch focus to the stream of new customers already at my door.

Posted by: Jeff | Nov 3, 2005 1:06:41 PM

There's only one 's' in ocelots.



Posted by: Spell Nazi | Nov 3, 2005 3:11:39 PM


If I wanted to post an mp3 on this blog but Typepad forbade me from doing so because many mp3s are copyrighted, you could say they were playing it safe... but you could also say that such a policy would be unreasonable... and I'd argue that such is the case with Cafepress's guilty-until-presumed-innocent censors.

On what basis could Cafepress possibly justify removing the Panexa stuff? It looked too "professional"? Too "satirical"? If they had a question about its origin, they could have easily emailed me... they should at the very least give me a chance to respond before taking the stuff down.

Cafepress has removed one of my shirts before -- a parody of the Virgin logo that says "whore." When I contacted them and argued them out of it, they removed the hold on the shirt. But then a month or two later, they took it down AGAIN.... so, what, I'm supposed to call them every couple of months and remind them?

I gave up on arguing about the Virgin shirt because I don't care much either way about that one. But it's ridiculous that I have to waste my time proving that something we created is in fact ours. Wal-Mart and other companies have similar policies for photo developing... and the only thing standing in the way of more of these kinds of limits on media use is public criticism.

Posted by: carrie | Nov 3, 2005 4:30:40 PM

I had a big fight with Cafepress over a few removed items, and I was able to expose them as phonies whose trademark concerns are mostly one-sided. See it here:

They restored the items eventually but I'm moving to an alternative site to sell T-Shirts anyway.

Posted by: Red Square | Nov 3, 2005 4:31:27 PM

Ah, so there's more to this fury than this one instance. That makes my take on all of it quite a bit different on the receiving end, Carrie.

I don't necessarily agree with you that it's ridiculous that you should have to prove something is yours when it happens to be flagged by reviewers trying to keep sanity to their business.

I have to believe that if you'd received a "You have 7 days to contact us, please, or we'll temporarily disable your product page." notice, your feelings about the whole situation would be different. That says to me that it's not so insane a concept, but the execution with cafepress is sorely lacking.

Maybe I'm wrong about how you'd feel then though.

For what it's worth, I had a product page removed (with notice) from cafepress two years ago. It was an image (all text) I had scanned from a Subaru owner's manual. When notified weeks later that the content was flagged, I rightfully conceded and was actually rather pleased to find that they were keeping watch on this sort of thing. (Just an aside story)

All I'm saying is that I just don't see it black and white if handled in mutually respectful way. It sounds like they really dropped the ball. Personally, in those circumstances, I feel an obligation as a consumer to contact the appropriate department to address the situation as a last stand, let them know exactly what they're doing wrong, and what I intend to do unless it's resolved. Perhaps you've done that.

Your point about the mp3 file is interesting to consider, although it doesn't sit fully right with me as a good example. If you were in the *business* of burning CDs of submitted content, for the world to purchase, I have to think you'd be reviewing the content for copyright infringement. It's a completely different example, using the scenario above, to be a shop with 1000+ CD burning stations for rent to artists wanting to press CDs ( I'm sure I am far from as clueful as you are regarding the laws about this sort of thing (business owner responsibility/reach), but they sure seem like very different scenarios.

Posted by: Jeff | Nov 3, 2005 7:13:05 PM

If they've got enough time to consider the image and decide it may be infringing, they've certainly got enough time to do the barest of research (i.e. google the name "panexa") and see for themselves.

I've had similar experiences with CP myself - and now I'd rather use those crappy inkjet t-shirt transfers than do any business with them again. They are free to run their ship the way they see fit, but don't be upset when people start finding other boats.

Posted by: Matt C | Nov 3, 2005 10:47:46 PM

They don't seem to have a problem with this. But I guess this isn't really a copyright issue.

Posted by: rp | Nov 4, 2005 2:06:10 AM

It's nice to see that your unfortunate dealings with CP haven't affected your own standards. If you had gone an unilaterally criticized them without consultating them first, in the same way they took down your site without contacting you, I would have been disappointed. Maybe you can extoll that virtue when your birth announcement gets in the Observer.

Posted by: 99 | Nov 5, 2005 7:45:46 PM

The Panexa website is absolutely amazing.

Posted by: Sam | Jun 11, 2008 2:50:34 AM

The Panexa website is absolutely amazing.

Posted by: Sam | Jun 11, 2008 2:52:35 AM

I think they need some serious competition. I'm pulling my shop soon, their interface bites and they exist to just promote themselves and rip off whoever else they can. I'm in search of a better outfit.

Posted by: Xanna Ziskey | Jan 23, 2009 4:21:23 PM

Recently CafePress began competing with the artists for whom it acts as printer and shipper.

CafePress rents web shops to its artists. The artist creates a website page and manually loads the desired blank products. The artist imports his image onto each product, arranges the products on the page, describes the products, titles the products and tags the images.

Initially, the artist would set a markup and received the markup for each product sold.

However, recently CafePress began competing with its artists, using the artists' own images. CafePress created a marketplace where a customer can search a keyword. That search brings up artist products. When the customer buys from the marketplace CafePress pays the artist 10% of the price CafePress set. Both the customer and the artist lose money. If the artist's shop sells a t-shirt for $21, the artist makes $3.01. If the marketplace sells the same shirt for $25, the artist gets $2.50. The customer pays $4 more, and the artist gets $0.51 less.

CafePress tells artists to "promote your own shop," but CafePress buys Google adwords using the very image tags the artist provided.

CafePress justifies this bait and switch of service terms by telling artists they can opt out if they don't like the new terms; however, many have spent as much as 7 or 8 years creating as much as 88000 images.

In spite of their sweat-equity, many shopkeepers (content providers) are building shops at other print-on-demand companies and then closing their CafePress shops due to the broken faith and trust, the financial hardship CafePress has delivered into so many lives, and the huge amount of time and dedicated effort all lost in the momentum of their own businesses. Would you keep your AMOCO station franchise if AMOCO built a company store across the street from you?

Posted by: Linkin Mall | Jun 22, 2009 3:23:50 AM

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