How to sell t-shirts online and commit copyright infringement

In college, Threadless was my secret fashion resource. No, my shirts of large cartoon art did not win over any ladies, but I was always dressed in some attire that no one had ever seen before. Except for that god damn Communist Party one.

Times have changed. The shirts are no longer on sale for $5, Threadless has retail stores, and there are numerous competitors increasing in popularity. Now something stirs in me when I glance upon these sites full of threads for those too lazy/busy to go to stores. There is copyright infringement anywhere. The separation between parody and rip-off is a line being destroyed like Charlie Sheen doing coke in a Las Vegas penthouse.

It offends me on two different levels; skirting legality (note, I have no law experience under than high school mock trial) and being boring design.

The Guide for Internet Shirt Success (three choices)

1) Take a colloquialism or phrase from popular culture and interpret it literally.

“The Hills Have Eyes”, dummy

2) Take a part of popular culture and present it in a way that the company that owns it probably can’t sue.

3) Take two things from popular culture and combine them together because why the fuck not?

And these are done by hundreds of artists. It’s not just one guy with a penchant for nerd topics and a Wacom tablet. If Hot Topic has taught us one thing, besides how many patches one can put on a single jacket, it’s that nerds can be overzealous on owning things emblazoned with their interests. There’s a difference between owning a Bears jersey for wearing on game day/family gatherings than every piece of furniture in your apartment being fitted with that wonderful blue and orange “C”.

Patton Oswalt recently wrote an excellent piece on how geek culture isn’t as small and isolated as we like to think. So at some point, wearing a shirt with a giant 1-up mushroom on it isn’t so brave and secret. Somewhere there’s a designer looking to make a few quick grand by winning a Threadless contest. He has two options; try something unique and personal and potentially art, or slap Boba Fett on Batman so everyone who likes both of those things (a lot of people) will instantly think “INSTANT BUY RAHWHA”. Guess which one’s going to get submitted more.

Bro, you didn’t do anything. You took a sprite icon and put it on a plate. I feel like I’m critiquing Andy Warhol art now. YES IT’S AN OPEN SOUP CAN. A HOBO CAN MAKE THAT.

I have a hard time justifying some alternative, like paying Nintendo a bit for every shirt that has a reference to Yoshi on it, but it’s just starting to feel wrong.

Maybe this is how some of the first Napster users felt guilt. I was a child then, downloading everything from the invisible ether like music was just generated by robots and made for free. As I got older, and I received a few Cease and Desist orders, I started to change my mind. Kind of.

Chad Quandt is Analogy Editor for Nonstop Karate
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About Chad Quandt

Writer for videogames, animation, the webcomic Suffrage. Master blocker in dodgeball. Barbecued with Corey Haim before he died.

Posted on January 12, 2011, in Chad Quandt, Pop Culture, Videogames and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I like how the Slytherin and Reed Richards Twister shirts are just photoshopped onto the exact same model picture. Couldn’t even be arsed to hire somebody to wear them for the picture.

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