Online artists say unscrupulous T-shirt vendors are using bots to search social media for comments such as “I want that on a shirt.” When the bots find them, they quickly take images from the original posts and upload them to T-shirt marketplace sites without regard for copyright or artist credit.
PLEASE RT: Never, ever, EVER respond to someone’s art on Twitter saying you want a shirt with that art. Bot accounts will cue into that and then pirate the artwork. This then becomes a nightmare for the artist to get the bootleg merchandise taken down. PLEASE SHARE.
— Rob Schamberger (@robschamberger) December 1, 2019
To fight back, some artists and others have started posting such phrases around images containing the intellectual property of big, sometimes litigious companies such as Disney and Nintendo, presumably hoping to draw attention to the situation from their high-powered IP lawyers.
Nintendo and Disney didn’t immediately respond to inquiries from Fast Company about tweets and shirts using such characters as Mario, Pikachu, Mickey Mouse, and meme-favorite Baby Yoda.
artists are pitting bots that steal artwork to sell t shirts against disney’s copyright practices this rocks lol https://t.co/tkMWjNLqtA
— leon (@leyawn) December 4, 2019
According to the website Waxy.org, some of those fighting back against the problem have even successfully managed to generate T-shirts that condemn the sites where they were posted for using “stolen art,” sometimes along with vulgar images.
Artists who sell or show their work online have long complained that fighting IP theft can be like playing a game of Whac-a-mole, with many marketplace sites seemingly reluctant to take steps to systematically weed out copycats that can steal customers from their small businesses. Ironically, harnessing big-name characters such as Mickey and Mario may very well help bring more attention to the issue.