So, I might get razzed for this - but I figured I'd come to a place where I would receive useful insight on my situation.
Zillow wants to buy the domain that a website (optimized for iPhone which uses their API) I've created resides on for literally "a couple hundred bucks".
This seems like an easy way to take advantage of the work I've put in to building the domain/ranking.
Additionally, they've threatened to cut of API access if I do not comply with their wishes.
It's located at http://izillow.net
Since launch the site has received ~50,000 visitors + links from techcrunch, apple, google (appengine) and numerous blogs + recognition in the New York Times.
(also ~90k pageviews)
It's in compliance with Zillow's TOS & they've threatened to cut of API access if I do not comply with their wishes.
Last year in May I created an iPhone interface for Zillow's "zestimator" - it was all fun and games, got a little bit of blog coverage/mentions & an overall good response. Zillow seemed to be all for it.
Then the New York Times included it in one of it's articles - and Zillow asked me to very simply put the words "unofficial version" and a link at the bottom of the app.
No problem. Done.
Zillow has launched their own iPhone app (which rocks) - but wants me to take down mine and hand over the domain for "a couple hundred bucks".
I dont feel this is fair and they're trying to stiff me with a measely $250. What would you do? What do you suggest? What are your thoughts?
Disclaimer: Please don't take my (or anyone's) advice at face value without spending some serious time considering the best option for you.
I can't help but think there's something you aren't telling us, otherwise they've made a colossal error.
Let's look at your absolute worst case scenario. They cut off your API, put you completely out business, and end your app. Let's look at what they are offering you: $250. The worst case scenario + $250. What, exactly, do you have to lose, by rejecting their offer? $250. Put another way: nothing. Absolutely, nothing.
What is their worst case scenario? That you, oh I don't know, post around to bunch of places like Hacker News that they basically strong-armed you mafia style to shut down. Word spreads through dev circles that they are basically screwing their devs and abusing the trust of the dev community. They have to do all kinds of PR damage control.
The entire point of an open API is to attract devs to help spread your brand. If they want to turn around and start screwing the very people who help them, they'll find that dev pool dry very, very quickly.
In other words, the position they've put you in, you have virtually nothing to lose, and they have quite a bit. I'd respond accordingly. Save all their emails. Start working on the "zillow.com screws devs" website. Name your price, and tell them for both your sake, they should accept.
Since launch the site has received ~50,000 visitors + links from techcrunch, apple, google (appengine) and numerous blogs + recognition in the New York Times.
They let a well known company uses izillow for a while so they may have lost their trade mark by failing to defend it.
PS: It's a huge risk for company's to let others use their brands without defending them. They can get him to change the name or license the use of iZillow, but doing nothing is a really bad idea for them.
Since they where in contact with the app author and asked him to make a remedy to the issue (tagging it with 'unofficial version') they have effectively defended the trademark. Defense of trademark doesn't mean you have to prevent others from using it, but rather that you have to show that you are taking steps to control it to prevent it from running into the general venacular.
Also to lose the trademark your going to have to show that it's become a common synonym for a particular category (think Kleenex instead of tissue). Zillow is a LONG ways from that.
This would make sense if he wasn't using their brand name in the domain name. It's not so much that he's got a competing application as it is that he's piggybacking on their branding by using a domain name that's different from their trademarked name by a single letter in front. I'd say he's pretty clearly in wrong on that point and they're being very cool about the whole situation. Plenty of other companies would start things off with a cease and desist. Instead of paying the lawyers to print a nastygram on firm letterhead they've offered him a little money and tried to make things easy.
Write them a thoughtful, well-reasoned letter explaining:
1. How as an active member of he developer community, you have enjoyed building useful tools which expand the reach of the Zillow brand.
2. How you have dedicated significant time and energy to this project, on the understanding that they provided the API to encourage enterprising and curious developers such as yourself to find new valuable ways to interact with Zillow.
3. You are a reasonable person, and would be willing to sell the domain for a reasonable amount.
4. What you think is a reasonable amount, and some simple calculations/reasoning supporting this number.
You might even say that you were surprised by the small sum the initially offered, but with the information given I don't think there's any reason to be too offended-they probably just threw something out there to see if it worked. I also think it's quite early to start talking about negative pr campaigns etc. as others are suggesting. That won't get you any extra money, which as I understand it is your goal at this point.
edit- to suggest maybe including something from their "about us" section to describe what you were doing; trying to "help consumers by giving them access" to information.
Also to note, while their tactics aren't particularly subtle or magnanimous, I do believe in giving some benefit of the doubt- especially until after you've seen their response to your thoughtful response.
edit2- in 1.) above, you probably don't want to say you're expanding the "zillow brand"- no reason to help their IP/trademark position. just say something similarly pleasant sounding.
I somehow feel this wouldn't work in negotiations especially when the other side is not playing fair. When they offered as low as $250 it tells they are playing it mean. All this nice idealistic talk is not going to move a blade.
I would suggest don't work on their sympathy or expect them to value your efforts. They will not. Be ready to lose the meagre amount and play it hard. If you lose, make sure it costs something for them to fix their bargain of $250.
The reasonable letter is not intended to win sympathy, nor does it cut off other options. If they maintain a firm, unreasonable position, OP's options are still open and he can intensify the conversation. Starting with a thoughtful explanation of his side of the story is evidence of a good-faith effort to work out a solution, which improves his position if other parties get involved (e.g. lawyers, the internet).
Worst case: you're back where you started, but have demonstrated for the record that you were prepared to work together to find a sensible solution.
Best case: you've kept things civil, and come to an agreement without any inflaming the situation further.
As someone who did the trademark dance let me add this. If you deny their offer and try to keep running your site, it will be trivial for them to file a complaint with ICANN and simply confiscate your domain name because of the trademark.
If you immediately switch over to doing something legitimate with that domain, you can keep it indefinitely and there is little they can do about it. Fortunately a criticism/parody site qualifies. I'd be more than ready to turn it into a "zillow screws devs" site.
Personally, I'd counter with a $12,500 offer and hope to settle for around $9500. That really is nothing to them. $250 is nothing but an insult. They must think you're 12. Its just plain bad taste to pair that with a naked threat.
I can't help but think of Monty Burns saying, "hey there young pup, if you give me that fine domain you've got there I'll give you a shiny nickel of your very own!"
It isn't. If they e-mailed you that they didn't have a problem with it and their API is still accessible there's nothing they can do about it.
It's obvious that since they now have their own iphone app they want yours down, or merged into theirs. You're basically a competitor. And they're trying to buy you out. And their tactic seems fairly obvious: "let's see if we can get the guy to hand ot over for a couple of hundred bucks, if it works fine if it doesn't we'll have to get into real negotiations"
Now you've got to play the negotiation game...
Note: This is just my opinion, and it could of course easily be wrong.
Acceptable Use. You agree not to use the Zillow API, Zillow Data, or Zillow Brand & Links in any way that is unlawful, or harms Zillow.com, its service providers, its suppliers, your end users, or any other person. Further, pursuant to Section 10 below, Zillow.com may terminate your use of the Zillow API, Zillow Data and Zillow Brand & Links if and when Zillow.com determines that your use is inappropriate.
So there is something they can do. Blocking API calls is painfully easy and they've outlined their right to ban anyone they consider to be doing harm to them (which a competitor would clearly qualify as).
To Auston: I do agree that $250 is a really low bid and you might want to engage in a little friendly negotiation but in doing so realize they don't have to give you anything. So when choosing a tactic I'd avoid the hard negotiation and instead try to "charm" more money out of them.
So, they're definitely giving you the short end of the stick. It's unfair. It's terrible. But there might be nothing you can do about it.
Most sites with an API have in their API agreement that they can cut you off at anytime with or without reason. Zillow states:
Zillow.com may change, suspend or discontinue the Zillow API and suspend or terminate your use of the Zillow API, Zillow Data, and/or Zillow Brand & Links at any time for any reason, without notice.
They've decided that you were great when you were adding value to them, but now you're a competitor and they're going to shut you down. This is the unfortunate circumstance of relying on services that can change their terms at any time.
I don't agree with the extent that RMS takes the free software argument all the time, but when he talks about cloud computing, this is what he's talking about. Providers are saying, "Don't worry. Leave everything to us. It will be nice and you don't have to maintain anything." It also means that you have no recourse when they decide to change their terms. You become beholden to them and their good graces - sounds like a feudal relationship in a way. Cross your lord and you'll live to regret it.
Really, the worst you can do to them is get them a lot of bad press. Maybe that will swing the power to your side - "attention developers: zillow will just cut you off from their API if they see you as competition." Might make Zillow more amenable to paying you a little more. Lots of sites would jump on publishing such a thing. The FSF or other FOSS advocates might write up stuff as a "warning: don't let this happen to you" about cloud computing. Zillow, I'm sure, would like to avoid their name in that mess - probably to the tune of more money than they're offering now.
Just remember. Enemies threaten; friends warn. Be very nice with Zillow and kinda casually mention that you think you might pitch TechCrunch on the idea of a story about the situation - cutting off API access and all. Remember, you're happy to sell and not mad at them, but that they might not come off looking so nice in the press at $250.
<blockquote>Be very nice with Zillow and kinda casually mention that you think you might pitch TechCrunch on the idea of a story about the situation - cutting off API access and all. Remember, you're happy to sell and not mad at them, but that they might not come off looking so nice in the press at $250.</blockquote>
By posting everything about the situation on HN, isnt it possible that somebody has already caught wind of the story :).
Drew from zillow. I've been in contact with Mr Bunson about this issue. I don’t think that it’s appropriate to discuss our conversation in public, however, I will say that what is described here is not a complete representation of the conversation. He’s welcome to continue to use the API as long as he doesn’t infringe upon our trademark and use our brand name "Zillow" on his website.
Is that a bad thing? It's their data, and it's helping them. I think the damage to their brand among developers is happening right here (I'm sure as hell staying away from Zillow in the future). Compare that with the 'damage' it would cause some random consumers who may or may not have a problem with izillow. Not worth it.
There are people out there who will read "unofficial version" and still not know that it's not official. Those people will not be any more clued in just because it has a different name - if it looks/works like zillow, it is zillow. Targetting this level of understanding is futile.
Honestly I can understand zillow's side here but I'm just curious. Shouldn't the original use of izillow.com been grounds for trademark enforcement? The only thing I think is less than savory is that now, when you have your own iPhone application, you're going after this person and making sure people don't mistake it for an official version.
But like you say, there are details here that have not been disclosed, so I am by no means passing any kind of judgement.
Have you folks learned nothing from previous examples?
Just a few weeks ago, the 'hacker community' was raising torches and pitchforks to defend a logo creator accused of "stealing his own work". We later learned he was likely guilty as charged: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=552160
Have any of you spoken with Zillow? Before picking up your e-torches and e-pitchforks and twittering yourselves into apoplexy again, you might want to pause and ask "why would a company who depends upon developers do something so obviously hostile to third-party developers?"
Something doesn't smell right here, and public airing blind conclusions in a "too smart to be wrong yet again" echo chamber doesn't help matters for either party.
$250 is certainly a lowball but their registered trademark for Zillow gives them almost infinite leverage. They can just take your domain if they want to. The sweet spot price is just below what it will cost to sue you for trademark infringement. I'd hope for $5k.
Also, www.izillow.net goes to a different site than izillow.net.
The thing is, they let him use their site for a while. They even opened a line of communication with him and requested that he include "Unofficial Version" on the site. Their only communication to the poster should have been to stop using their trademark. The fact that they endorsed the site and didn't protect their trademark puts them in a bad spot if they try to leverage their trademark in any way.
I hope to speak with you about this later today but please update this post and correct the facts here. You have misrepresented your communications with Zillow. I have the e-mail on this; you asked for $250 for the domain. That was not Zillow's offer, it was yours! When Zillow accepted your offer, you rescinded it. Those are the facts.
I look forward to resolving this ASAP - please let Drew know when you are available to take a call on this. As others here have pointed out, we simply cannot allow you to misuse our trademark but you are welcome to continue to host the site.
Surely, I opened my mouth too early, you offered "a couple hundred bucks" - I said $250 would be sufficient, I clicked "send" and then thought - "Oh crap! wait... a minute..." and followed up telling you $250 is unreasonable.
They offered a couple hundred bucks and he thought fine, $250. Then he realized the pagerank, publicity, link backs, and worth of the domain far exceeded $250 after he sent the message. That's probably what he isn't telling us.
Youre being suckered to try and enter into negotiations.
If you counter offer to a point it is cheaper for them to put a lawyer into the mix, you will face accusations of trying to profit - and by all precedent lose the lot.
Cut and run is the only advise that will get you out with more money in your pocket than you have today.
Tangurena/micks56 provide extremely useful tactical information. But that information does not change my point. The objective is still to raise the $250 number. The strategy is still negotiation. Disclosure of bullying to the world at large is still an available tool.
The trademark/cybersquatting issues increase complexity of that negotiation moving it more towards the realm of a legal rather than a business negotiation. Some additional legal research/advice is probably needed.
Change your brand name NOW and contact the media everywhere explaining what has happened.
1. You get tons of traffic.
2. Lots of people know about you.
3. Zillow's competitors are now interested in acquiring you as well.
4. Zillow is now in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation - exactly where you want them.
If you need access to the Realtor.com guys, let me know.
Not comparable. They can't discriminate based on several protected attributes (race/religion/etc), but they can discriminate for any other reason, even "I don't like him" or "using our trademark in his domain name". This is why a bar can throw you out for being a jerk but not for being black.
As others have noted you do have some power to damage them in the opinion of the world (well, the opinion of a few thousand geeks who even know what Zillow is).
It's a standard tactic to threaten and lowball. If you care enough, hardball back.
Unless he puts something else up on the site. If they give him enough grief, he could easily stop referring to the Zillow service and put up something unrelated. Depending on how bad the negotiations go, the owner could be quite creative in what he posts up on the site.
I would say that if they pursue a legal option it will cost them no less than $5-10K. Thus your minimum price should be about $15K. If they cut you off, figure out what competitor they might not want traffic to go to and set a landing page to point to them.
I would suggest you talk to an actual lawyer and see if you can get them on strong-arm tactics or anti-competitive practices.
1) Determine a fair price
2) If they insist on being AS ridiculous like cutting off YOUR API access...
- Prepare a Twitter / Blog campaign (#zillowfail)
- Get the NYtimes reporter aware of this. They will listen to you if your email subject is "Unethical, unfair behavior from Zillow"
3) Negotiate further.
The HN hacker/Twitter community will help out. This is ridiculous
Oh come on - why seek to hurt/destroy a viable business in these dark days just because you personally don't like how you're treated?
Determine a fair value for your work and negotiate. It's a shame they opened with a low-ball offer backed by a threat (if this is truly how this all unfolded), but be the bigger man here and forge some cooperation! Maybe then they can learn a lesson about dealing with API devs without first seeing them scared off by a personal vendetta campaign
What I would do is counter with some reasonable offer to show you're willing to play ball for the reasons below.
IANAL but I seem to remember in my business law class that even if my last name was "macdonald" in US courts I would have trouble keeping "macdonalds.com" because of trademark issues. I imagine the same would be true for izillow.com. On top of which, as other posters have mentioned, their Terms of Service likely gives them the right to cut you off at any time. Your leverage is low.
For them it is a business decision where they would rather avoid legal expense and bad PR.
Keeping in mind that the lower of legal fees + PR damage or the dollar value in harm your app does to their brand and sales sets the upper bound for what they would likely pay.
If the site is getting about 2500 visitors a month, I would probably respond mentioning how much work and time you put into it, and emphasizing that you want to work with them on this, then ask for $4,000.
Don't sell -- certainly not for $250. What cheapskates. You probably know Frink and Barton capitalized zillow with $57,000,000, part of their profits off Expedia.com: if zillow is doing so swell, if you believe all the self-hype you read on that blog, izillow is not only worth more, but Frink and Barton can afford to pay you much, much more. I like the idea someone suggested of "parody and criticism." That's not hard to do with zillow -- so easy and fun to make a "comedy" out of all the bs they've pulled on homeowners and agents alike since they've been running. A number of people have been working on a future site called zillowclassaction.com, a data collection tool. We may decorate the site with a Z upsidedown and backwards. There are sites like zilo, I've been told, and no one has copyright on the letter "Z" -- to my mind it still stands for that horseman who rides "out of the night, when the full moon is bright" ... that bold renegade making ZZZZs with his blade, Z's that stands for A LOT MORE than zillow. "Stand sure" on principle -- and give em hell. Th
Don't take it, $250 is peanuts. You're providing a valuable service for them, and clearly they were aware of and encouraged it. I doubt they'd take you to court, but I doubt they'd win anyways. There's no reason you can't own a domain with their trademark in it, as long as there's no confusion that you represent their company.
Call their bluff, let them cut off your API access. They'll lose customers, you'll lose $250. Not even close.
All that aside, I still wouldn't sell it to them just based on principle. You spent your time enhancing their product with their API, and they have the audacity to try and bully you into taking this ridiculous offer.
FWIW, that's it for me ever using Zillow. I won't do business with a company with such low ethical standards.
Move the domain, and diversify to other data sources, but in doing so try to keep your user base.
And, if you're really good, try to do it in such a way as to maintain friendly relations with zillow. If that's possible. It would be tricky. Stalling tactics are your friend, I would guess.
My gut feel would be, do not try to make money from a sale to them, if their (TM) name is on your domain. Give them the domain free, AFTER you get your users moved away. Take it down now and start redirecting people asap, because they sure aren't going to do you the courtesy of doing that, even if you're on good terms.
But... I'm just some random guy on HN. My advice is worth every penny you paid for it.
Very interesting discussion, so I followed up and asked Zillow for their thoughts on the matter.
Here's what their spokeswoman just told me:
"He misused our trademark and we had to follow up. He's welcome to continue using our API as long as he doesn't infringe upon our trademarks and use the brand name Zillow. As per his post - it's not a complete representation of our correspondence with him. This is about defending Zillow's trademark, nothing else."
Zillow could argue that your domain is confusingly similar and violates their trademark. They are probably offering you a few hundred bucks because it would cost more than that for them to send you a cease and desist.
Not sure how much you can squeeze out of them given this.
If they have an open documented API and you are using it, then I would stand your ground. What are those 90k pageviews worth to them? What are they worth to you? I imagine they're worth more than a few hundred bucks to you.
IANAL...but fuck that. I assume your previous communication about the 'unofficial version' was in writing, at least by email. So legally, they don't have a leg to stand on because they've already folded and accepted your right to supplement their service with your little app. I(f they had strenuously objected straight out of thegate that would be a different situation, but they've already committed to a course of action and now they're backtracking. You can show you dealt with them in good faith (I presume) so I think you're quite safe with 'thanks, but no thanks'.
This sucks, and I feel for you, but I think it is the risk you take when building an app around someone else's API and trademark without establishing an agreement with them first.
From other comments, it looks like they can legitimately cut off access to the API and get the domain. All you really have going for you is that you can make some noise about it, because if Zillow values their developer community they need to demonstrate that they won't try to pull stuff like this.
1. Use the publicity that this controversy generates to drive traffic to your new site. Since you already have the software: you could set it up on a different domain. Then as this story spreads use it to get page views to the new domain. Publicity like this is the best thing that could happen to a small site.
2. Offer to sell Zillow your software. You can sell them the domain for $250 and then change them 10k or 100k for your software. Or could you customize your software to suit some particular need that they had? As someone else mentioned you could offer to work for them -- if they hire you they won't have to wait till you ramped up on the API.
You've done a good job building ranking but frankly the site is primarly just a hook into their data and they can do as they please with it. In essence, you're value is selling the SEO and traffic, which they would have arguably have built themselves anyways. They do likely have a solid ICANN action against you to take the domain since it incorporates their trademark and the use is demonstrably a complementary function to their site.
I'd determine the actual _cost_ of time you put into the site and ask them, nicely, to purchase it from you based on that (and the goodwill you've generated for them by making the site available). Estimate, fairly, the cost you've incurred and a fair amount for your hourly time efforts and counter offer them that.
It's an interesting scenario, as several people have pointed out: In one sense they have supreme leverage in that they have power over the API etc. At the same time, they have a reputation/brand to protect (damage to which could cost a whole lot more than $250). They've clearly come on strong, adding the threat of discontinuing your access to the API as a pressure cooker.
Ignoring the artificial pressure that they've added, what real incentive is there to accept this deal straight off? $250 isn't a game-changer -- Zillow knows that too. Fight for what you think it's worth.