Thursday, August 15, 2013

when is a band like a canned meat company

TL;DR phish is still a band (who knew?), they seem to think they own the word "phish", and they're using intellectual property law to take products i made to raise awareness about phishing off of the online retailer site zazzle
when is a band like a canned meat company? when internet culture co-opts their brand and uses it to mean something unsavory and unwanted.

we all know what spam is, right? it's that junk you get in your email trying to sell you penis enlargement pills (among other things). but wait, that's not right. spam is a canned meat product and registered trademark of hormell foods corporation, and they were none too pleased when people on the internet adopted the word to refer to unsolicited commercial email - thanks in no small part to this monty python skit

eventually hormell had to come to terms with the fact that there was really nothing they could do to stop the internet from using the word spam in a way other than they had intended. they couldn't stop language from evolving.

similarly, the word phish has come to represent a technique for tricking users into providing a malicious party with the users' usernames and passwords - much to the consternation of the musical group named phish, no doubt. unlike hormell, however, phish the band haven't managed to come to terms with this yet or perhaps haven't even heard of it yet (though the term phishing is by no means new). apparently they think they still own and control the word phish and will use intellectual property laws to censor others who use the word, even if it's being used in a way that has nothing to do with the band.

and i know this because it happened to me. this afternoon i received an email from the online retail site zazzle stating the following:
Dear secmeme,
Thank you for your interest in,
and thank you for publishing products on Zazzle.
Unfortunately, it appears that your product, Phish, 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.

Please help us make our content approval process better by taking this short survey.

The details of the product being removed are listed below:

Product Title: Phish
Product Type: photousa_iphonecase
Product ID: 256546457405156553
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.
Image: View the Image

If you have any questions or concerns about the review of your product, please email us at <redacted by blog author> and we'll be happy to provide you with additional support.

—Zazzle Content Management Team      
i was pretty disappointed by this, since this was the second online retailer that had decided this particular design violated someone's intellectual property - the first being cafepress who decided that this
was too similar to this
found using google image search
and lets face it, it was supposed to be similar. the song lyrics that popped into my head and inspired it were a parody of part of the cheers theme song
don't wanna go where people know
my passwords are all the same
don't wanna go where
everybody knows my username
but i don't think just being similar is supposed to qualify as infringement. moreover, zazzle had been just fine with this design for nearly a year, since the post where i announced it's availability was dated august 31 2012. so what changed? i decided to write back and get some more information and that's when i found out what happened:
Hello Zazzler,

Thank you for being a Seller at!

We would love to offer every design that our users submit, however we must abide by all applicable laws and standards as well as our own content guidelines and copyright policies.

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, “Phish”, does not meet Zazzle’s Acceptable Content Guidelines. Specifically, your product infringes upon the intellectual property rights of the band Phish.

We have been contacted by representatives on behalf of Phish, and at their request, have removed the product from the Zazzle Marketplace.

We are sorry for any disappointment, but hope you will understand our position in this regard. For future reference, please review Zazzle’s Acceptable Content Guidelines at:

If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Thanks for using Zazzle. We look forward to seeing more of your creative designs!
you know what? i do understand their position. they've received a spurious intellectual property claim but they aren't really in a position to judge whether my original artwork (and i use the word artwork loosely; i'm no artist or graphic designer, just a programmer who occasionally plays around with gimp) actually infringes phish's intellectual property, and even if they could the law doesn't really afford them much leeway. they might be able to fight for their users, but it would be expensive and it doesn't bring in enough money to be worth it.

it's really down to phish themselves to get over the fact that the word phish has taken on additional meanings and let people use the word as they see fit. especially if they, like me, are using it to try to raise awareness (albeit through non-traditional means in my case) of a rather widespread security risk.

over the course of the last 2 decades i've spent time and effort, and for the last 5 years even my own money (for the domain and such), trying to raise awareness of security issues and help people become better able to protect themselves and it's really disappointing when someone comes along and interferes with those efforts. it's not like i make any money doing what i do, i do what i do out of a sense of duty. i have an obligation to help those who don't yet know what i know deal with some of the threats that are out there.

although we are talking about something i'm selling on an online retail store, so you might think i am making some money, i set the mark-up as low as possible. i'd like to set it to 0% like i did at cafepress but even if i did give them the details they'd need to be able to pay me, the $16 that's accumulated wouldn't cover my domain registration costs so far. the point of the merchandise isn't to make money but rather to reach beyond the computer screen. trying to make money increases the cost and thus works against the goal of reaching more people.

but, you know what? there isn't really much i can do except try to turn this lemon of a situation into lemonade. what's done is done. i can't undo the past and i can't make phish come to terms with the new reality any faster than they are (or aren't) right now. however, for the time being, there are still some phish items left in my zazzle store.

hurry up and get 'em because i don't know how much longer they'll be there, and setting up an account with a 3rd online retailer just to keep this design on the internet is more energy than i'm prepared to commit to this enterprise. if this design is too cool for the internet, then i guess that's all there is to it.