Kate Wagner's blog, McMansion Hell, has seen steady growth, verging on near cult status with its following of building and design professionals who revere the sharp wit and keen insight that Ms. Wagner brings to her critique of bloated boxes and tacky architectural detail. Last week the site came under legal attack from Zillow. At issue, according to Zillow, is Wagner's unwarranted use of photos from Zillow listings that it deems to be a copyright infringement. But Fortune reports that Zillow's legal threats appear to be baseless, noting the company does not even own the copyright to the pictures of the houses it posts. In addition, Fortune says, "Wagner's mock-up of [the photos] are almost certainly covered by a legal doctrine known as 'fair use,' which lets people use copyrighted works without permission for things like reporting, criticism and parody."
Zillow's action of sending a cease-and-desist letter is turning out to be a colossal PR debacle for Zillow, drawing far more negative attention for Zillow on social media than Wagner's blog ever did. It has had a chilling effect, however. In response to Zillow's threatening letter, Ms. Wagner took her site offline for a couple days.
Update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation took up Ms. Wagner's cause and responded with a blistering critique of Zillow's claims. It didn't take long for Zillow to retract its statements. And in the most recent development late Friday, Zillow released a statement saying the company has "decided against moving forward with legal action." Ms. Wagner has since brought her site back online.