Screen Printing - August/September 2017 - 36
taking a shot at
online art theft
andy Macdougall, asdpt
boot·leg -'boot leg/adjective
1. (especially of liquor, computer software, or recordings)
made, distributed, or sold illegally.
synonyms: illegal, illicit, unlawful, unauthorized,
nd yes, grammar police, there are also verb and noun
versions, and even a football play, but they all reference the
same thing, more or less. Let's move on.
Today, in this age of disruption and constant change, we
get to add "online sale and production of T-shirts and art"
to the definition. And while there are entire government
agencies policing illegal liquor and recordings, or the threat
of expulsion from college or dismissal from your job if you
plagiarize writing, the theft and reproduction of pop culturerelated images seem to get a pass, unless you have some
heavy legal artillery at your disposal.
Kyler Sharp, an artist from Texas, lays it out for us. "What
they'll do is grab art from the internet and place it onto a
photograph of a T-shirt, and then post the item to sell on eBay.
If an item sells, then they'll just use a direct-to-garment printer
and print the art to a shirt. But, my art and most others' art
is always uploaded as low-resolution images meant only for
internet viewing. As graphics pros know, low-res images aren't
meant for printing and won't look good."
The artists who are getting ripped off this way number in the
hundreds, if not thousands. It's an image theft epidemic and it's
growing, driven by a number of internet startups that supply
platform websites and then link their customers to production
facilities. The overseas factories that used to be the source
of almost all bootleg merchandise have been supplanted by
US-based operations. Basically, any bozo with a computer can
be in the merch biz - in most cases they don't even need a DTG
printer since other companies do the printing for them.
And they act fast. Kyler continues, "Recently, after the
death of Chris Cornell, some of my work popped up on
Amazon. The bootlegger was grabbing my poster art and
photographs, posterizing them in Photoshop, making them
one-color images, and then posting them to sell on Amazon.
This actually happened the day of Chris's death. Very tacky!
"Facebook and Instagram both have ads galore selling
bootlegged posters. The companies buying the ads promote
them as 'Tool Fans, Fans of Tool, Soundgarden Fans, The
Ultimate Soundgarden,' etc."
Mike Mancuso, of The Yetee in Aurora, Illinois, puts it bluntly: "It is really hurting the artists we work with. Their whole
portfolios are ripped off and sold through sites like Teechip."
Rick Biskit Roth of the Ink Kitchen, a guy who has seen
just about everything in the apparel business over a long
career, says, "My big issue is even when you catch somebody
stealing your designs on all these sites, they make you go
through a big long bunch of bulls*** instead of making the
thief prove they have the right to use it."
This is the crux of the matter. Amazon, eBay, Facebook,
and Instagram all have anti-piracy provisions for sellers using
their sites, but they are more concerned with a female breast
appearing in a post than somebody selling illegal T-shirts.
And unless you have some expensive lawyers and a big brand
name, not much happens.
Ben Nylen, a printer with Shelterbelt Studio in Minneapolis,
recently had a poster appear on a site called awestees.com,
used without permission. This led him on a mission to get it
taken down, which drew him into the dark side of the so-called
digital revolution in the T-shirt industry.
He found that the site using his art was powered by a
platform that had been in the news recently. Ben picks up
the story: "In 2016, the company that produces 'Hamilton'
sued GearLaunch, SunFrog, and a number of 'John Does' for
producing unauthorized merchandise. They ultimately settled
'amicably' this February, with SunFrog and GearLaunch making a large donation to a charity and assuring they would take
measures to stop the rampant IP theft perpetrated by other
businesses they claim are their clients.
"Well, they certainly don't seem to be cracking down," he
continues. "I, and many other poster artists, have witnessed
a huge uptick in these pernicious fake ads as of late. We want
to make it stop."
Interestingly, while both SunFrog and GearLaunch were
named in the "Hamilton" suit, the case apparently didn't shed
any light on the nature of how these businesses operate or how
they are tied together. Ben experienced that. He says a customer support person from SunFrog told him that they weren't
affiliated with the site he was chasing. So he phoned Awestees
customer service, but was connected to a different company.
Finally, two weeks later, he got a call from someone who said
she represented Awetees and would take his concerns very
seriously, though she refused to give her full name. Ben says
she confirmed that the site used GearLaunch as its platform.
SunFrog represents the "new" model of apparel decorating,
one of many names most of you know (and that, in the interest
of saving some ink, we won't list and/or black out here). Part
of their marketing strategy involves flooding Facebook feeds
with ads that link to fake fan pages. Those ads, often, come
from bootleggers that print low-res, low quality, unauthorized
versions of peoples' work direct to garment or paper without
permission. The platforms make no claims as to ownership of
the merchandising rights and thus, feel they have deniability. Except, it seems, when the wrath of a "Hamilton" comes down.
Andy MacDougall is a screen printing trainer and consultant based on
Vancouver island in Canada and a member of the Academy of Screen
& Digital printing technology. if you have production problems you'd
like to see him address in "Shop talk," email your comments and
questions to email@example.com.