Artists get revenge on art-stealing T-shirt bots

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Nana’a design has even become the top SEO result for Toucan Style, one of the worst offenders of automated art theft.

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.

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.

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.

The Daily Dot has reached out to several of the offending companies and will update if they respond.

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Siobhan Ball

Siobhan Ball

Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org