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McMansion Hell
An example of a manipulated photo from McMansion Hell. (Facebook Photo / @McMansionHell)

Update: Follow this link for the latest developments on this story. 

The creator of the popular architecture criticism website “McMansion Hell” took the site down on Monday after receiving a letter from Zillow Group in which the Seattle-based real estate media company demanded that she stop using Zillow content.

Kate Wagner, a 23-year-old writer and student in Maryland, posted a message on the McMansion Hell Tumblr page under the header “Going offline for a while.” In it, she wrote, “Zillow is threatening to sue me if I don’t delete most of the posts on this blog. Anyone who can see this who can help, please contact kate@mcmansionhell.com.”

A short time later, the site was gone. On Twitter, Wagner shared the letter she received Monday from Christopher Poole, corporate counsel for Zillow.

Wagner’s work, in which she critiques the architectural styles of houses, relied heavily on the use of photographs from the Zillow site. Disclaimers on her posts owned up to this fact by making a fair use argument:

“Copyright Disclaimer: All photographs in this post are from real estate aggregate Zillow.com and are used in this post for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107. Manipulated photos are considered derivative work and are Copyright © 2017 McMansion Hell. Please email kate@mcmansionhell.com before using these images on another site. (am v chill about this)”

“If you love to hate the ugly houses that became ubiquitous before (and after) the bubble burst you’ve come to the right place,” reads a description of McMansion Hell which is visible on a Google search.

In tweets, Wagner said the blog is her “entire livelihood” and that if it goes she will “lose absolutely everything.” She also said she has until June 29 to do something and asks for anyone who could help her to “please, please DM” her.

How I feel about architecture pretty much all the time…(Greetings from Reykjavík!)

Posted by Mcmansion Hell on Thursday, March 16, 2017

Zillow’s letter disputes Wagner’s understanding of fair use and said that in addition to violating Zillow’s terms of use she was infringing on the rights of the copyright holder of the images.

Zillow sent a statement to GeekWire saying that its intention is for the photos to be removed, not for Wagner to kill McMansion Hell altogether.

“Zillow has a legal obligation to honor the agreements we make with our listing providers about how photos can be used,” the company said. “We are asking this blogger to take down the photos that are protected by copyright rules, but we did not demand she shut down her blog and hope she can find a way to continue her work.”

Last week, a judge partially overturned a verdict in which Zillow was ordered to pay $8.3 million in damages for copyright violation related to 28,000 images provided by VHT Inc. on the Zillow Digs website.

Wagner had just shown up Monday morning in a Washington Post video in which she explains why the McMansion architectural style — popular in suburban developments and apparently enjoying a comeback of sorts — is “lazy” and “pretentious.”

GeekWire reached out to Kate Wagner for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

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