Extra! Your Political Speech is now a “Viacom Property”

Earlier this week, fan artist Glockgal discovered that all but one of the designs at her Zazzle store had been removed “because they “contained content in violation of Viacom’s intellectual property rights.” But the shirts contained not only original graphic designs, but political speech, protesting the casting of Asian or Inuit characters in the film of Avatar: The Last Airbender by white actors.

Apparently, you need permission from Viacom to say: “Aang can stay Asian and still save the world” or “The Last Airbender: Putting the Cauc back in Asian” or “The Last Airbender: Brown/Asian/Colored Actors NEED NOT APPLY”. These design were entirely textual, and obviously political: Glockgal called her store Racebending.com and contextualized its products as a form of political activism: “Stop Hollywood White-Washing of the upcoming movie The Last Airbender!” Glockgal is now selling some of the designs with “CENSORED BY VIACOM” plastered across them–but since when does Viacom own political speech about its products?

Legal Advocacy
  1. msilfan commented:

    I agree 100% with this rant, but it doesn’t seem enough, to just say what’s wrong. We need some leadership in fighting this kind of suppression of free speech in general, and to get those items back in the store. What can OTW do, what can we do?

    • fcoppa commented:

      I have already bounced this over to our legal committee, who are discussing it with their wider legal network. But that aside, don’t underestimate the power of spreading the word and boosting the signal, which is why I made this post. Cases like this are tricky, because Zazzle probably has the right to host or not host whatever they want: but they’re WRONG to say that they’re not hosting it because its infringing Viacom (its really NOT), and they probably wouldn’t like it if people started saying that they are discriminating against antiracist free speech (or that they were supporting Viacom in suppressing race-based criticism of Avatar: TTA.) It may be a PR war as much as anything.

      • msilfan commented:

        An OTW statement that we could support would be great, rather than everyone sending random messages to Zazzle, or starting an Internet Petition.

        • jinnie commented:

          Knowing how awesome our legal department and allies are, I would put money on this post being merely step 1. 🙂

  2. Michael Fricklas commented:

    Actually, at Viacom we take a wide berth on fair use and would NEVER take a clip down because we disagree with the message. Our approach is to take down only clips that involve little or no additional creative (or political) speech. Please forward the clips (or links) to the address on Viacom’s website (or send a counternotice) and we will check if there was an error.

    • Rebecca Tushnet commented:

      Thanks for this message. We certainly hope Viacom is willing to communicate its support for fair use not just here, but also to the intermediaries who host a huge amount of free speech online, such as Zazzle. Just to be clear, there were no clips at issue here, only slogans and Glockgal’s art. And as an aside, “the address on Viacom’s website” was impossible for me to find. I would appreciate a pointer to it.

      Rebecca Tushnet (OTW Legal Committee)

  3. Glockgal commented:


    Thanks so much for posting about this. I’m learning more as I see what people are saying about this/reacting to it, so I really appreciate that OTW has made this post.

    I would LOVE to get in contact with your laywers and/or share the back-and-forth Zazzle emails with OTW. I requested a DMCA notice, but Zazzle just told me the removal of the products was part of a ‘routine sweep from Viacom’. Recently, another NEW product was removed by Viacom claiming that I had ‘copyright infringement on intellectual property’…which led me to believe that they are searching for any sort of image names or keywords that have the words ‘airbender’, ‘viacom’ or any of the character’s names. I changed the name of the image (to V1acom instead of viacom) and put the product back up; I’m now curious to too if it’ll be removed as well. 😀

    Also, I’m a little intrigued at what Michael Fricklas has said in the comment above.

    But overall, I really want to talk and learn more about what I could and should do. I’ve been advised to file a counter-request for the DMCA notice from Zazzle…could I contact you regarding this process?

    Thanks again.

    • fcoppa commented:

      Hi Glockgal!

      I’m going to email you at your gmail address with our Legal team’s email and phone numbers; we are really happy to help you proceed, either by counternotice or by other means. We are also pretty intrigued at what Michael Fricklas said above, and so it may be a matter of getting Zazzle to understand Viacom’s position, and we’re happy to try to foster communication between all of the above!

  4. Visitor commented:

    An OTW statement that we could support would be great, rather than everyone sending random messages to Zazzle , or starting an Internet Petition.

  5. John commented:

    It is disheartening to note that the United States has not been able to escape from the clutches of racism in spite of getting a black president. In my view it is immaterial whether a person is black or white. What matters most is his performance, his attitude and his character. In my view all these controversies are deliberately created to increase the ticket sales of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. I am sure that people are not going to be fooled by such cheap tricks. John