If you proudly and publicly put a piece of fan art based on a major Hollywood franchise up for sale, the copyright owners of said franchise might hit you with a takedown notice faster than you can say "Pattinson." But what if you get a takedown notice for something that has absolutely nothing at all to do with any major Hollywood franchise?
One artist says it just happened to her.
It all started when professional artist Kelly Howlett put one of her sketches up for sale on Zazzle.com. Then she got an email from Zazzle support with some bad news: Her design allegedly contained "an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights." The email went on to explain that the holder of the apparently infringed property rights had contacted Zazzle, leading them to remove the art from their marketplace.
The problem is, the picture is just a sketch of a woman's face and hair. She doesn't look like any famous character you know, and as far as we can tell she's not meant to. It's just a picture of a woman.
So what gives? Howlett emailed Zazzle to ask for clarification, and the plot suddenly thickened.
"I was told, 'Your product has been removed from Zazzle's Marketplace due to an infringement claim by Summit Entertainment,'" Howlett wrote on her Facebook page. "'This may be due to the actual design of the product, description, search tags or character names that references the Twilight Saga which is owned by Summit Entertainment.'"
Given that the painting seems to bear no resemblance to anything connected to The Twilight Saga, this news only further confused Howlett. So she did some research, and happened upon the reason for all this confusing trouble. Her sketch was tagged "11-20-09," the date she created it, but that date also happens to be the theatrical release date of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the second film in Summit's series.
"That's why I got flagged," Howlett said. "They were claiming that using 11-20-09 as a search tag was infringing on their intellectual property."
So by doing this Summit Entertainment is basically claiming that, creatively speaking, they own that date? Sure, they used it in marketing materials for New Moon, but it's not like Twihards found that date essential to any part of their experience other than scheduling. Also, the film was released more than two years ago now, and this just happened last week.
For Howlett, it's more than just an uncomfortable experience that now makes for a weird story. It's setting a bad precedent.
"I doubt that anyone at Summit Entertainment even saw my image. I'm sure they just have a bot trolling Google Marketplace to issue threats," she said. "All these anti-piracy laws are scaring me because it's just assumed that these companies are right, and if not, their army of lawyers can certainly outlast my bank account. If someone like Summit wanted to claim my artwork was infringing their intellectual property simply because it was created the same day as the release date of a movie ... I couldn't fight it if I wanted to. I'm hating the idea of a company being able to call up my website host and have my content removed simply because they objected to it."
But for now, there's a happy ending to the story. Howlett put the image up for sale on another site, and Zazzle worked with her to put it back on their marketplace, too, where it still has the same name.
In case you were wondering, the final film in The Twilight Saga is out Nov. 16, 2012. So, you know, be careful what you create that day.