Earlier this week, I wrote about the chilling effect money is having on the freedom of the press. As I was in the middle of writing that post, Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell announced that she had received a cease and desist letter from one of Zillow’s attorneys.
The EFF stepped into assist Wagner and, earlier today, sent their legal response to Zillow (PDF), ending in this truly magnificent paragraph:
Our client intends to relaunch McMansionHell.com shortly and will not be deleting any posts. In the interests of compromise, and because Wagner no longer wishes to use Zillow’s website, she will no longer source photographs from Zillow for her blog. Given this, we sincerely hope Zillow will have the good sense not to trouble a court of law with this matter. However, if Zillow does intend to file suit, please be assured that our client is prepared to defend herself against your spurious claims.
Well, Zillow saw the error of their ways — and, probably, how much of a massive PR blunder they made with this — and won’t be suing Wagner:
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.
It may not have been their intention, but a letter from a lawyer can be powerful enough to make anyone stop what they’re doing — even it’s completely legal. This response sucks, though: Zillow could have at least apologized for being so deeply wrong.
Chalk one up for the indies today.