Zazzle, City Prevent Transit Blog N-Judah Chronicles From Selling Muni Gear
|This shirt, oddly, was deemed acceptable by Muni|
Greg Dewar, the mastermind behind the N-Judah Chronicles transit blog -- and co-author, with your humble narrator, of the SF Weekly feature "The Muni Death Spiral" -- estimates he's made around $1,500 in five years selling clever Muni T-shirts on Zazzle. So Dewar was surprised when an "anonymous copyright holder" tattled to Zazzle that he was trespassing on their intellectual properties with his "The N Is Near" shirt and others.
Dewar's first thought: The infamously litigious New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency was claiming it owned the ubiquitous letter-in-a-colored-circle image one sees on mass transit vehicles everywhere, as it did in a shakedown letter to a San Francisco man in 2009.
That wasn't the case. In fact, it was San Francisco's own transit agency that dropped a dime on the unauthorized use of its trademarks. "Your products infringe upon the intellectual property rights of San Francisco Muni. This includes images of buses, logos, maps, signs, etc.," reads an eye-opening letter from Zazzle to Dewar. "Zazzle has been contacted by representatives from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and at their request, to remove designs that may infringe upon their rights from the Zazzle Marketplace."
It would come as a great shock to learn that Muni now considers even an image of its vehicles or maps to be their own "intellectual property." The city is awash with art, clothing, and paraphernalia based on Muni imagery. Will every book or poster featuring an image or photo of a bus, trolley, or light-rail vehicle now be deemed a violation? Per Zazzle, that appears to be Muni's claim (this crackdown is even more curious considering Muni's laissez-faire attitude toward its transit data, to which tech entrepreneurs are allowed free access.).
In fact, Zazzle's broad definition of Muni's intellectual properties comes as a shock -- to Muni. The original letter sent by the city attorney at the behest of the transit agency can be viewed here. In it, the city objects to two Zazzle users -- neither of which is Dewar -- using the only three images Muni has actually trademarked: A cable car logo, the old Municipal Railway logo that used to appear on tokens, and the ubiquitous "worm."
"That letter was sent to address those two users and those three logos," says Muni spokesman Paul Rose. When described the content of Dewar's offending shirts, he noted "that shouldn't be a problem."
Zazzle has not yet replied to SF Weekly's messages.
Dewar counts himself as annoyed and befuddled. A year ago, Muni claimed to be moving toward starting a licensing program. To borrow a Muni-related term, however, that run has been canceled. "If they pursued a licensing program, I'd sign up," says Dewar. "It's not in existence. So what am I supposed to do?"
Rose notes that anyone who wishes to create Muni-related merchandise should "work with us" and inform the agency of one's hopes to hawk transit paraphernalia. It won't necessarily cost you money, he notes.
Muni, consider yourself informed. Dewar adds that it's the end of the line for hawking his goods on Zazzle.
"I'll find another provider or I'll print 'em out myself," Dewar says. "I'm not Walter White making millions of dollars off a meth empire. This just paid for my website."
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