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Monday, March 30, 2009

Oh the Two Manatee: CafePress Content Police Strike Again

I wasn't planning on doing another CafePress follow-up post so quickly, it's just that they continue to try my patience. In my last post I shared, what I thought, was a clever shirt design called "Habitat For Two Manatees." Well, it got pulled into pending status by the Content Police over the weekend. It had been up for two days before it was nicked and I was a little bit upset. Mainly, because it would be two to three days before anyone on their side could get back to me explaining the problem. I mean, I know what the problem is, I used the logo for Habitat For Humanity as the basis for my design which is usually a no-no. Even in the case of fair use policy concerning parodies, it's still a gray area and if it were my company, I'd probably err on the side of caution and pull it, too.

That notwithstanding, I did decide to not wait and did a redesign on the image to get it back up and running. I changed the design on the "habitat" and branded all my previous HF2M shirts with the new image. Fifteen minutes later, it got yanked. Now this is where I have a problem. Clearly, I changed the logo and there should have been no reason for objection. Apparently, the tagging system is partially the key to this process as I kept the same tags on my image as before. While it took nearly two days to pull the first, it only took fifteen minutes to pull the second. Either they have an automated system for checking against previously corralled designs or someone was manning the button on a Saturday afternoon. I can't understand why it takes less time for them to yank an image after it's uploaded than it does to email me back concerning my claim.

This is becoming a habit. The last five out of eight designs I uploaded have been pulled into pending status. Now, we could either classify in one of two ways. I have no creative spark and am just copying other people’s work which is violating some sort of copyright infringement, or I am just following the pack mentality over at CafePress and I’m the only one getting nailed while others go free. It almost seems that I am more upset with the fact that other people are utilizing designs of questionable legality and I cannot versus being upset that I am not allowed to use my images in general. If that’s the case then I need to realize that they are not MY images I guess and that other people are just better at sneaking past the censors.

While writing this, I did get a response from CafePress. They wish me to call them and discuss it. I don’t know how to take that. It’s either too complex to discuss over email or I just got called to the Principal’s office.

In terms of my objection to their objections I did have another design that could be easily identifiable as a cartoon character. However, I did a search on CafePress’ website to see if said character had been already out there. It had and it was more blatant of a copying of the character then I intended. I intended to have a silhouette of the character with one word underneath the image. Of course, in tagging my design, I used specific keywords that pointed to the cartoon from hence it came. While the other designer used the full image the character, there was no text or name signifying the character, but using two words in the search field brought back their image. Those two words are also the name of the character. Again, I got nailed, they didn’t. I am perfectly able to accept that I was in the wrong. I did read (image of a cartoon character) in the body of the usage policy, but why am I the only one who is held to this standard. It makes me wonder if the objections are in the tagging and that leads to further dissection of the design. I am currently conducting an experiment. I uploaded all offending images again with certain tags removed. If they get pulled then it is not the tagging perhaps. And they did….so someone is manually looking for these things or have coding/logic built in to red flag certain items.

This covers one part of my issues and I love how all these issues come up after my free trial is over. Ironically, this second issue is concerning my free trial that ended earlier this month. During that time I managed to sell as many items as I had with free, basic shops. That was one of the main reasons I decided to continue on and pay for a premium store after the free trial ended. Since the free trial has ended, so have my sales. I have not sold one item since. It makes me wonder if there is some sort of mechanism in CafePress’ site that recognizes which designs belong to a premium site since one of their marketing tips is that Premium Shops get better promotion in the shopping area. If that’s the case, they could also build logic to include a timer on sites that are in a free trial, pushing them to the top of the rankings, giving shopkeepers confidence in making money on their designs. They decide to stay around after the trial ends and whatever coding is in place expires and their designs go back into a rotating pool. This is definitely a rotating ranking. My designs have changed position in rankings while the total number of designs with the search terms I used stayed the same. That could be driven by sales. I’m still researching that idea.

Like I said, it’s not illegal but it is a little shady. It definitely would have made me think more about keeping a premium site after the trial if I knew ahead of time that my sales would drop. If it’s true, then we all get duped as the entire cost for a year’s membership gets billed automatically at the end of the trial, not on a monthly basis unless you pick that form of payment. It’s cheaper to do it in bulk, which is a marketing trick. We all do it. Buy in bulk and pay a cheaper price per item/month.

I think my biggest problem is really a lack of organization. As much as I’ve tried to organize my designs I keep coming up with more that expands the category. Some products even exhibit elements of more than one category and it makes it harder to group items. The best thing I did do was have a listing of all my categories and designs within run down the side of my shop page. However, all of my sales are from searching, not from my shop portal. That also plays into my heavy handed tagging of designs to drive search results to my designs. Ok, so I am trying to capitalize on selling opportunities. Who wouldn’t? It would be different if I wasn’t paying for the service but now I am so it behooves me to experiment and try different techniques to increase sales.

With all this being said, I did manage to sell another shirt in the time it took me to write this. I actually could not believe it when I saw it. It was such an obscure reference to a very cheesy 80’s movie. The kind of film that only Robot Chicken would dare have the pop cult junkie mentality to even make a reference to. Any kid that grew up during the 80’s probably saw this on HBO countless times and could quote half the movie. It’s from Midnight Madness, a scavenger hunt film from Disney which also served as Michael J. Fox’s first movie role. He was even billed as Michael Fox in the opening credits. Other notable cast members include Eddie Deezen, David Naughton, and Stephen Furst. At one point in the film, all the teams are scouring Los Angeles searching for clues that will lead them to a finish line. The obligatory antagonist group, led by Stephen Furst, has been cheating with the use of a computer to help solve the clues. Unfortunately, it suffers a marshmallow meltdown and the team is forced to actually play by the rules. Upon receiving a clue with a set of letters, the dumbest member of the group, Barf, attempts to rearrange the letters to spell out a possible destination. Little do they know that the letters are actually musical notes that play out the Pabst Blue Ribbon theme song. In his many attempts to decipher the clue, Barf spells out the words "Faga Beefe". While nonsensical in nature, it has provided one of the funniest lines ever in film history. So, I give you the latest item sold at M.A.M.S, the store. Faga Beefe!

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