Monday, November 17

Scripting Nonsense: CafePress

You won't find an explanation in a news release. You won't find one on its blog. You won't even find it in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blast e-mails it recently sent out to select members. But on Nov. 13, CafePress removed designs bearing likenessness of Martin Luther King, Jr. without any attempt to clearly communicate the circumstances whatsoever.

Never mind all the communication vehicles at its disposal, the only attempt to communicate was sending a pre-written generic marketing-laced "Content Usage Policy (CUP)" e-mail. That e-mail communicated nothing:

Dear Shopkeeper,

You can view all the images which have been pended by clicking on the following URL (or copying and pasting this URL into your browser): link

Images Pended: XXXXXXXX

Thank you for using!

As you may know, provides a service to a rich and vibrant community of international users. From time to time, we review the content in our shopkeepers accounts to confirm that the content being used in connection with the sale of products are in compliance with our policies, including our Content Usage Policy (CUP).

We recently learned that your account contains material which may not be in compliance with our policies. Specifically, designing, manufacturing, marketing and/or selling products that may infringe the rights of a third party, including, copyrights (e.g., an image of a television cartoon character), trademarks (e.g., the logo of a company), "rights in gross" (e.g., the exclusive right of the U.S. Olympic Committee to use the "Olympic Rings"), and rights of privacy and publicity (e.g., a photo of a celebrity) are prohibited.

Accordingly, we have set the content that we believe to be questionable to "pending status" which disables said content from being displayed in your shop or purchased by the public.

You may review the content set to pending status by logging into your account and clicking on the "Media Basket" link. The content set to pending status will be highlighted red.

Please visit our Content Usage Policy (CUP) for additional information regarding your use of the service. Once there, you may access our Copyright, Trademark & Intellectual Property Guidelines and FAQs for more detailed information regarding Intellectual Property Rights.

We apologize for any inconvenience that the removal of your content may have caused you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.


Content Usage Associate

While it would be pretty easy to critique the e-mail point by point, it might be more effective to rewrite it. After all, even instructors sometimes surrender to the idea that guidance might not be enough. Sometimes being explicit is a must.

Dear Shopkeeper,

It has come to our attention that the usage of Dr. Martin Luther’s King Jr.’s likeness on mugs and T-shirts without the consent of his estate may constitute a violation of their right of publicity in Martin Luther King Jr. Center For Social Change v. American Heritage Products, 250 Ga. 135, 296 S.E.2d 697 (Ga. 1982). As a result, we are temporarily placing all merchandise with the image of Dr. King's likeness with a "pending status," which removes such content from being displayed in your shop or purchased by the public.

:::insert links to pending merchandise:::

We also appreciate that some shopkeepers may have already obtained permission for specific usage of Dr. King's likeness on such merchandise. If this is the case with your images, please respond to this message so we may reinstate such content as soon as possible.

If you would like to know more about how we are cooperating with The King Center to preserve the image of Dr. King, please visit our blog or press center. Thank you for your understanding and for continuing to use


Content Usage Associate

Effective communication is clear, concise, accurate, human, and conspicuous. Had CafePress appreciated effective communication, shopkeepers who had permission (like myself) would have had their images reinstated by end of day.

Instead, CafePress only demonstrated an inability to respond appropriately to its customers and, perhaps, an increasingly common but incorrect interpretation of the DMCA. It might even be worth mentioning on an online radio show this Tuesday night.



Anonymous said...

What's the deal with all of the images that get flagged, i.e., green, yellow, or red border, and notification that the image is 'Pending'. I have images that were questionable in terms of violation of NFL trademark/copyright issues, but it is unclear whether a final determination on whether I can use these images has been made. Should I expect this 'Pending' status to advance to some other state? Will the suspect images simply be deleted as was the case with these MLD images? What's the deal?

Rich on 1/28/09, 7:56 AM said...

Hi Clare,

Yes. In order to use logos, trademarks, names, etc., you have to have permission. That makes sense.

What CafePress does is place them in a permanent pending status unless you can demonstrate you have permission to use the images. Most people remove the images when they are placed in pending (because they don't have permission).

What irritated me about our case is that we demonstrated permission through our relationship with a non-profit, but CafePress was reacting to a much broader MLK issue and did not listen.

It was a customer service failure that never was never satisfied. So, other than select items for the time being, we are moving away from CafePress in total.

It is not the only customer service issue that remains unresolved. We disagree with their policy to draw premium shop payments from an account balance without permission. It creates a paperwork headache when we divide proceeds for donations to various non-profits.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the additional insights, and regret that you've had to abandon Cafe Press. In terms of my 'objectionable' images, I didn't blatantly violate any of the trademark, copyright, or other protections as best as I can ascertain. I created a few facsimiles of some NFL logos. I thought these were different enough, but apparently I was wrong. I am trying to determine what modifications I would need to make for the images to be permissible, but it doesn't appear that an answer will be forthcoming. Anyway, sorry for being so long winded, and wanted to thank you again.

Rich on 1/28/09, 7:30 PM said...


My pleasure. I understand what you mean. ... Andy Warhol would not have been able to put a soup can up on CafePress.

I would not expect them to get back to you. If they do, great! They used to be much more customer service savvy. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Rich -

I am having a similar 'semantics' issue with a Cafe Press 'customer service' rep - who does not even answer my points - but simply sends out nonsensical replies. My problem is with using words that are clearly not copyrighted - and even find them on MANY shops already selling on CP!!! But because they are on a popular tv show right now - this guy is acting like they are private property. UGH!
I have abandon all hope of getting my very basic point across.

What site have you moved on to? And do you like it?


Moonlighter Media on 10/9/12, 5:25 PM said...

I've been having the same issue with Cafepress. I can understand them trying to protect copyrights but they pend images of mine that have no issues. I usually just pull them and re-design or forget about it because fighting over it would take forever. I did actually voice my concern and got several images reinstated tho. They were hand drawn by me and were my own property, so they looked at them and immediately determined the pending was a mistake. I have no clue how they decide what should be pended and what should not when their are clearly other people doing the same violations and their designs are still for sale. I had a design pended and then they continued to sell it on Amazon but wouldn't let me sell it myself. I sent them a compalint then too. It seems like there is some sort of bot doing the pending because I just don't get why some of my designs were pended. Like the one with a sweet pea on it and it says 'sweet pea' - did someone trademark sweet peas? The latest was one that just has lettering that says 'This is my t-shirt. There are many like it, but this one is mine.' how is that a violation? The frequency of my images getting pended is increasing too - I'm thinking about leaving Cafepress but don't know where to go yet...

Rich on 10/14/12, 4:05 PM said...


I'm leaning toward Zazzle.


Rich on 10/14/12, 4:07 PM said...


I understand there are dozens of sites. As I just mentioned to an older comment, I've been working on something for Zazzle. But there are others.

Anonymous said...

Yup. Just had the same thing happen to me, with no explanation. My image didn't contain any logos or copyrighted material. It was a shoe that I had illustrated myself and a word (not a trademarked word, either, but a French word). They did absolutely nothing to inform of what I did that was violating copyright.

Done with Cafepress. If you expect me to use your services to sell crap (that you then take the percentage you want and leave me with less), then you can at least provide clear communication with me.

Anonymous said...

I made an order to CafePress over a month ago and they cancelled it without telling me, so when I called they said they would double the order for half price but of course it got held up by content usage department for what I am learning is a knee jerk reaction after the court case they went through. I finally received an email after complaining that said "sorry". That's it, no order completed just sorry. After 4 years with cafepress they can kiss my proverbial *** because this is the WORST customer service I have ever received from any company, AND its over images I drew AND have ordered for 4 years from the same company that suddenly they are concerned about; too bad they aren't concerned about keeping their customers....


Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template