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Tired of bots appropriating their art for print-on-demand T-shirt companies, some artists on Twitter have struck back. After figuring out that the companies were using bots triggered by the phrase “I’d love to have that on a T-shirt!” and similar variations to steal their designs, they got to work creating the most embarrassing, and potentially actionable, images they could manage and then set them up to be stolen.
I LOVE this artwork. Nice drawing, omg! 😍— Nirbion (@Nirbion) December 4, 2019
I need this on a shirt!!!😻♥️ pic.twitter.com/0tfJY0t3xQ
ATTENTION ALL ONLINE SHOPPERS.— The Phantom Scam (@PhantomScam) December 5, 2019
This is a calling card for online scam websites, in order to have this message be as effective as possible; we need YOUR help.
Please comment on this post saying how much you want this design on a shirt.
From, the #PhantomScam pic.twitter.com/GpJdbXb8KZ
WE GOTTEM LMAO pic.twitter.com/3Ac9gLFWrg— nakanoart (@nakanodrawing) December 4, 2019
The campaign was started by artist and Twitter user @Hannahdouken, or Nana. After seeing a tweet warning artists and fans about the key phrases resulting in stolen art, they responded by making a call out shirt for those companies, tweeting it out and inviting their followers to respond with the magic words and see if any bots picked up on it.
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
Compared to some of what came next, Nana’s design was actually pretty merciful. There were no cat buttholes, copyrighted characters, or cringy phrases. Just a simple, “This site sells stolen art work, do not buy from them!” followed by a winky face. Factual, informative, and frankly poetic justice for any site that did end up selling it without her say. Which, in response to her fans playing the game and playing it hard, several immediately did.
Wow! I want this on a shirt! I want this on a mug! I want this on a bag! I want a print of this! I want this framed on my wall! Do you have a shop where I can buy this? Do you sell merch? I would buy a shirt of this! I would buy a shirt with this design!— Cliff Jerrison (@pervocracy) December 4, 2019
oh man can you put this on a shirt? or even some stickers or perhaps prints? I would love to buy this if it were on a phone case or a tote bag. i want this. i need this. want. buy. shirt pls— - ̗̀ Nick ̖́- (@NickolaiBoulton) December 3, 2019
Not to be confused with my fake robot money I would spend on a shirt like that. 🤖— JudgeXion (@AhmanPatrik) December 4, 2019
like clockwork pic.twitter.com/KlUjkoxSBm— Eliot (@FreightHerder) December 3, 2019
I couldn't belive this was a thing so I looked it up, and... wow. pic.twitter.com/TfYTT0JM03— Svarti (@SephWan) December 4, 2019
From there, other artists got on the vengeance train, producing significantly more damning and embarrassing works for people to be stocking. Disney characters were especially popular thanks to company’s lawsuit-happy reputation, but Mario, Bart Simpson and other well-known characters featured too, often paired with statements the copyright holders would find particular embarrassing or otherwise problematic.
Would you like to help hard working artists who struggle only get their art stolen and put on t-shirts? Respond or quote this tweet saying something like "I would love to buy this on a shirt." I think you can figure out what happens next when they steal this image for shirts. pic.twitter.com/0ImFSPQfrM— Action Points (@action_pts) December 4, 2019
We did it. We achieved something special. Tell your grandchildren that you were THERE when this happened.— Nirbion (@Nirbion) December 4, 2019
Gonna mute this tweet because I'm getting WAY too many notifications, but thank you 🙏 pic.twitter.com/bkStdwOmve
Let's get this on a shirt too what the heck pic.twitter.com/VYOKWBl3Mn— pingu from gothman (@VeegsRedds) December 4, 2019
hey guys! please tell me if you'd like to see this design on a tshirt 🙂 pic.twitter.com/633t4bojmb— gertrude shot first (@baph0meat) December 4, 2019
I want to play too. Wouldn’t this make an AMAZING T-SHIRT? 😍 I want it on a tote!! pic.twitter.com/NwDCPfTqAC— Tam Elle🍓 (@weirdtakoyaki) December 5, 2019
Several of the companies caught on and started taking the offending t-shirts down, but that’s the trouble with bots, they keep going and put the same potentially lawsuit-worthy designs back up again and again—enabled by the artists who aren’t going to let this end any time soon.
HMM looks like they removed the shirt from one of the stores (the other one is still there) and the bot who posted it has deleted their tweets of it— nakanoart (@nakanodrawing) December 4, 2019
They’re onto us 👀 pic.twitter.com/iBM9EA0SVi
Oooh man, the website deleted the shirt (I wonder why...)— Nirbion (@Nirbion) December 4, 2019
But I really REALLY love this artwork as shirt, wouldn't it be amazing if we can buy this as a shirt or mug? 🥰 pic.twitter.com/GAmheljoT8
now this is a twitter trend i can get behind pic.twitter.com/tmC8tChWnp— hornet hollowknight's legal guardian (@rhythmridge) December 4, 2019
AHAHHAHA THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE pic.twitter.com/YfWGEbg4Jy— Nana (@Hannahdouken) December 5, 2019
Nana’a design has even become the top SEO result for Toucan Style, one of the worst offenders of automated art theft.
Now it is the headline of their SEO 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/ygDGIajWdD— 🎩J. Gibbs ☃️ (@jdotgibbs) December 5, 2019
Ironically, several of the artists behind this have actually started selling their designs though other, more legitimate print-on-demand websites like Redbubble, which generally defend creators copyright with a high degree of success.
Some of you have asked me to offer this cat on an actual shirt, so here you go! Hahahttps://t.co/OPb2BVNNhN— nakanoart (@nakanodrawing) December 5, 2019
Nana suggested setting up a hashtag to direct people to the original of the stolen designs so they can buy them from the actual artist who created them.
we should start a # where we post the designs of the "stolen artwork" shirts but with a source where you can actually acquire them in a non-shady way and support the artist— Nana (@Hannahdouken) December 5, 2019
And if you actually do want a piece of artwork on a T-shirt, Twitter user @nakanodrawing helpfully made an adorable little GIF of her butthole cat popping the (please make me a T-shirt) question because the bots haven’t figured out how to track text in images. Yet.
So since these art-stealing bots are tracking your text and not reply images, I made this for you guys!— nakanoart (@nakanodrawing) December 4, 2019
If you want something from ANY creative made into a shirt, you can use this image to tell the artist you want to buy it. So you don't need to type it out ❤️ pic.twitter.com/E9Mn2GILcb
The Daily Dot has reached out to several of the offending companies and will update if they respond.
Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org