What’s going on?
Merch is one of the easiest and most lucrative ways for artists to earn a reliable passive income, outside of the grand popularity contest that is crowd-sourcing on apps like Patreon and Kickstarter. But that trust system has been completely demolished with the existence of algorithmic bots that crawl twitter replies, stealing art and putting up stolen-art tees on vendor sites (including popular ones like Amazon, TeePublic, and Moteefe) within a matter of hours, without the artist’s payment or consent.
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
“That sounds like a dystopian cyberpunk nightmare,” you say? Well, after artist Rob Schamberger pointed out this phenomenon, a few other popular artists decided to take these bots for a little spin.
hey can y'all do me a favor and quote tweet/reply to this with something along the lines of 'I want this on a shirt', thank you pic.twitter.com/UhuGRQgU6b— Nana (@Hannahdouken) December 3, 2019
Within a few hours, it was already up.
like clockwork pic.twitter.com/KlUjkoxSBm— Eliot (@FreightHerder) December 3, 2019
Within a day, there were dozens of other examples, but perhaps the most inspired is this bid to Disney, who is known for being intense with take-down notices, to sue the heck out of these art thieves.
“Of course, I thought of Disney first,” said Eisenbeis (@Nirbion on Twitter) in an interview with Fortune.com.
I LOVE this artwork. Nice drawing, omg! 😍— Nirbion (@Nirbion) December 4, 2019
I need this on a shirt!!!😻♥️ pic.twitter.com/0tfJY0t3xQ
Because this is happening, because it’s almost Christmas, and because so many parents might want to buy their teenage son a really cool tee with a ninja on it, we created a small list of sites that have been caught during this little experiment, and reliable sites that consistently pay their artists. Here’s where to buy tee-shirts, and where to specifically avoid as art-stealing dumpster fires who don’t feel like paying anyone and are worthy of hell.
“You better click art
You better not buy
A bot-created shirt
We’re all telling you why.
Artist just deserve to get paid.”
We created a naughty and nice list for artist merchandise when you’re buying gifts this holiday season.
Amazon Vendors (Naughty)
Toucan Style (Naughty)
podXmas (Naughty – Santa is extra mad at this one.)
Turbo Style (Naughty)
Even seemingly authentic sites like TeeSpring have been caught stealing art.
Other places to watch out for include Printly, Zara, vendors on eBay, and more.
Of course, even with these “nice” sites, there is a chance that artwork can still be stolen. Individuals may somewhat alter art just enough and then sell it as their own, and just about anyone can open their own shop. There is still a risk. However, the difference is that these sites …
- aren’t using bots,
- are willing to pay artists,
- have terms and policies about copyright infringement, and
- may be faster to respond when issues arise.
Redbubble is one of the more trusted merchandise-selling sites for artists in the community, with hundreds of different product options, from stickers to shower curtains. Their pay is consistent and decent. This site created some confusion during the recent kerfuffle, because the creators of the original art-stealing memes created real tees so they’d really get paid as a response to legitimate interest. That being said, RedBubble does legitimately pay their artists.
Threadless offers commissions on dozens of types of art. While other sites have been known to copy designs from Threadless, the site has a fairly good reputation.
While individuals have stolen from each other using this site, Society6 is willing to pay artists. They offer commissions on many different types of products.
There’s been artists complaining of issues where Amazon vendors steal from Zazzle, but by-and-large, artists can use Zazzle as their print shop.
This site is perhaps the oldest on our list, opening originally all the way back in 1999.
Design By Humans (Nice)
Artists can enter into contests, open their own store, and create fan art that may actually lead to pay.
The best tactic is to check to see if the artist has their own website.
See if they have a website in their bio on social media, and give them money directly through whatever site they prefer.
TL;DR: DO NOT SAY “I WANT THIS ON A T-SHIRT” ONLINE. DO SEE IF THE SPECIFIC ARTIST YOU WANT TO BUY FROM HAS AN ONLINE STORE THEY PREFER.
Ho, ho, ho, humans, have a happy holiday!