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Shop Talk: Taking a Shot at Online Art Theft

(August/September 2017) posted on Tue Sep 19, 2017

In this digital age of rampant bootlegged art, what's a screen printer to do?

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By Andy MacDougall

boot·leg -'boot'leg/adjective
1. (especially of liquor, computer software, or recordings) made, distributed, or sold illegally.
synonyms: illegal, illicit, unlawful, unauthorized, unlicensed, pirated

And 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 culture-related 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.”


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