Copyright/Trademark Facepalms

About a month ago, informed me that they had removed the sample chapter of Goblin Quest I had posted because it violated the rights of the copyright holder. As the copyright holder, I found that odd. It’s possible my publisher sent a takedown notice, thinking it was a copy of the entire book instead of just one chapter. Or it might be a flawed program that recognized textual similarities between the sample and the full book and flagged it automatically. I decided to let it go, because I didn’t have the time or energy to worry about it.

This week, e-mailed to let me know that the image on my Muse T-shirt violated the rights of the intellectual property owner.

That would be this image, which I created in April of 2011?

Call me goofy, but I figured that having created the image, I was the intellectual property owner. I wrote to them, asking for clarification. They responded promptly, and I give them points for that. Points which I promptly take away again for their response, in which they explain my shirt was removed:

…because it featured a design that does not meet Zazzle’s Acceptable Content Guidelines. Specifically, your product contained a trademark-protected text “Muse”, United States Patent and Trademark Office serial number 75773735.

Zazzle has been contacted by legal representatives from Maggy London International, Ltd., and at their request, to removed designs that may infringe upon their rights from the Zazzle Marketplace.

That would be this trademark record, which I presume was registered as part of Maggy London’s Muse division, which sells things like this:

At first I could almost understand. The product was listed as “Muse T-shirt,” which could conceivably be taken as suggesting this was from the Muse brand of clothing. But Zazzle’s response stated it was removed because the design violated someone else’s trademark. In other words, they’re claiming I’m not allowed to use the word “Muse” in a stick figure comic shirt.

I believe my response is best expressed in animated gif form.

Look, I get it. I make a significant part of my living as a writer. I appreciate that copyright law helps me to do that. If someone decides to make a Goblin Quest movie without my permission, I like that I can open up a can of legal whoopass on them.

I get that the internet complicates things. Like pretty much every other author out there, I’ve seen my books go up on various pirate sites. Trying to find a way to protect copyright holders’ interests without stomping all over internet freedom is complicated. Make it supereasy to demand a website take down your stuff, and you’ll probably create a system that’s easy to abuse. Make it too hard and convoluted, and you protect copyright infringement at the expense of the rights holders. And remember that copyright law varies from one country to the next…

But what we have right now? It’s a bit of a mess.

  • As a writer, even if I wanted to send DMCA takedown notices to every infringing site, it’s impossible. There aren’t that many hours in the day.
  • At the same time, as a content creator, I get to see my work yanked down from websites on the flimsiest of claims by anyone who can afford a lawyer to send out random cease & desist notices, shotgun style. I could almost certainly fight this … but once again, it requires time and a lot of hoop-jumping.

I don’t have that kind of time, people! I’m far too busy writing blog posts and searching for animated Naked Gun gifs![1. Which I think qualifies as fair use/derivative work, but I’m not sure. Like I said, it’s messy.]

I don’t have a solution. I’m not that smart. I just feel like copyright should be something that helps content creators instead of hurting them.