Zazzle’s anti-free-speech practices

So this is interesting. I recently created a product on Zazzle called “NSA-proof communication device.” It’s a dry erase board. (Get it? Get it?) It looked like this:

zazzle nsa proof communication device


It was up for a couple of days before I received an email from Zazzle’s Content Review Team reading,

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, NSA-proof communication device, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines. We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.

Product Title: NSA-proof communication device
Product Type: aif_dryeraseboard
Product ID: 256940178052035216
Result: Not Approved
Policy Notes: Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims.

Translation: The NSA told Zazzle that some part of “NSA-proof communication device” is their copyright, and Zazzle interpreted my dry-erase board as infringing on that copyright. I can only assume it’s the NSA’s name that is allegedly copyrighted. Obviously, this product’s invocation of the NSA name falls under fair use, since it’s parody.

Zazzle is treading into dangerous territory if they think they should take down every single instance the letters ‘NSA’ appear in products on their site. Really makes it look like Zazzle is an enemy of free speech. Or at best, too darn lazy to protect free speech in the face of an email from a big corporation or government agency.

I’ve been fighting with their customer service for a day and a half now, and the most recent action they asked me to take (which I obediently complied with since I’m a peon) is to state, with my e-signature, that I agree to get sued by the person who filed the takedown request. Bring it on.

9 thoughts on “Zazzle’s anti-free-speech practices

  1. Are you the owner of the image? Based on the policy notes supplied it appears something you have presented (like the image) might actually belong to someone else. Their response doesn’t seem to indicate this has anything to do with the ‘NSA’. I also find it unlikely that the NSA contacted Zazzle over intellectual property which is also in the policy notes.

  2. There is this though:

    “Sec. 15. (a) No person may, except with the written permission of the Director of the National Security Agency, knowingly use the words ‘National Security Agency’, the initials ‘NSA’, the seal of the National Security Agency, or any colorable imitation of such words, initials, or seal in connection with any merchandise, impersonation, solicitation, or commercial activity in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the National Security Agency.”

    Good luck!

      • I’m pretty sure there’s nothing about that product that would imply that the product was endorsed by the NSA! I think the clause in question is intended to communicate that you can’t impersonate a government agency.

        It looks like Zazzle is just being paranoid.

    • Chris is right. No reasonable person could believe that the phrase “NSA-proof” could ever imply endorsement by the NSA, given what they’re up to.

  3. It doesn’t really matter whether there is really a valid trademark or copyright claim. The question is, just as in the Wikipedia case (Chris above), how the receiving entity faces up to it.

    For example GIIS is the acronym of a school franchise in India based out of Singapore. They shoot off C&D notices like this one when their acronym is included in negative reviews and criticism:

    Global Indian Foundation – Cease and Desist notice – Chilling Effects Database

    When someone receives such notices, they might be better off challenging it, if deserved.

    In this case the trademark-challenged blog by parents discussing the GIIS school of Singapore is still up: Global Indian International School Singapore: Parents’ voice for a better GIIS

    The only problem in your case is that you did not receive the notice but Zazzle may have. And Zazzle took the easy way out I guess, rather than fight the biggies. Really, out of your sphere of control, don’t you think ?

Leave a Reply to Rachel R. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>