McMansion Hell Update: Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Rescue

©. Electronic Frontier Foundation

The non-profit defender of civil liberties online responds to Zillow’s unfounded legal claims.

UPDATE to UPDATE: Zillow has released a statement, added to bottom of post

We recently covered the story of how grad student Kate Wagner got a cease-and-desist letter from real estate website Zillow demanding that she close down McMansion Hell, the hilarious website that skewered our favorite skewee, the American McMansion. She tweeted:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) responded: It is "the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world... We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows."

The EFF goes through, in detail, the dubiousness of Zillow's claims, noting that "McMansion Hell’s annotation of photographs for the purpose of criticism and commentary is a classic example of fair use." They also note that it didn't exactly generate a lot of goodwill for Zillow; it is a classic case of the Streisand Effect, "the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet." It probably garnered Kate Wagner more followers and Patreon supporters (I'm a new one). Meanwhile, the site is live again. Daniel Nazer of the EFF concludes:

Zillow’s letter unleashed a wave of negative publicity for the company. In response, Zillow has insisted that it did not intend to shut down Wagner’s blog. However, it does appear to be standing by its demand that she remove all images sourced from Zillow’s website. Zillow has no basis for such a demand and our client will not be removing any previous posts. She has informed Zillow, however, that she is not interested in using its site for her blog in the future. We hope Zillow does the right thing and renounces its attempt to censor McMansion Hell.

There are lots of sources of McMansion photos. Kate could set up a Flickr group and I bet thousands of us would send them to her. Who needs Zillow anyway.

UPDATE FROM ZILLOW: We received this at 4:50 PM 29 July and publish without comment:

We have decided not to pursue any legal action against Kate Wagner and McMansion Hell. We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, including with attorneys from the EFF, whose advocacy and work we respect. EFF has stated that McMansion Hell won’t use photos from Zillow moving forward.

It was never our intent for McMansion Hell to shut down, or for this to appear as an attack on Kate’s freedom of expression. We acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our partners – the agents and brokers who entrust us to display photos of their clients’ homes.