Redwood City-based online marketplace Zazzle, founded in 2005 by Stanford University MBA Robert Beaver and his sons Jeff and Bobby Beaver, used trickery to steal a successful designer’s fonts and made a fortune through the scheme, a new lawsuit claims.
Designer Nicky Laatz claimed in the suit filed Wednesday that a marketing manager for Zazzle contacted her in 2016 about making Laatz’s three “Blooming Elegant” handwriting fonts available on Zazzle’s website, where users can custom design products from mugs and T-shirts to business cards and wedding invitations. Laatz declined to respond, because she never offers the type of perpetual-use license the manager asked about, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.
A few months after the marketing manager contacted Laatz, Zazzle had a senior engineer “secretly purchase” a one-user license for the “Blooming Elegant Trio,” then copied the trademarked, copyright-protected fonts onto its servers “and made them available to all of its hundreds of thousands of designers and tens of millions of individual users until at least early August 2022,” the suit alleges.
“Zazzle has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from designs and sales of products using the Blooming Elegant Trio font software,” the suit claims.
Zazzle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Laatz, of the United Kingdom, said in the suit that she has designed more than 100 fonts over almost 20 years in graphic design. She only learned Zazzle was using her Blooming Elegant fonts in August 2020, when a Zazzle user asked her for help with the fonts, the suit claims. After Laatz contacted Zazzle to ask about its “unlawful use” of her designs, the company sent her a receipt for the one-user license “and suggested that it covered Zazzle’s use,” the suit alleges. Laatz told the company the license did not cover its use of her fonts, and demanded it stop offering them, the suit claims.
Instead, “Zazzle brazenly continued to exploit Nicky Laatz’s fonts for massive profits until at least early August 2022,” the suit alleges.
At least five of Zazzle’s 12 most-popular business cards, and several of its most-popular wedding invitations, used one or more of Laatz’s fonts, and the company had since 2019 been recommending one of them to users as its No. 2 font, the suit claims.
Earlier this month, “perhaps aware that it was about to be sued,” Zazzle began taking the Blooming Elegant fonts off its website, replacing them with “cheap imitations that attempt to mimic the look and feel of the Blooming Elegant Trio,” the suit alleges.
Zazzle is a private company, with Robert Beaver, who also has a law degree from Stanford, as CEO. His sons Bobby, the chief technology officer, and Jeff, the chief strategy officer, have economics degrees from Stanford. Their mother and Robert’s wife Peggy Beaver, who according to Zazzle has a psychology degree from Stanford, is head of human resources at the firm.
Laatz is seeking a court order to prohibit Zazzle from using her fonts, along with compensation for lost profits, unspecified damages, and a court order to freeze the company’s assets until damages and liability are determined.