I’m writing this in hopes that it may help someone else but also to document the tedious process which I’m sure I’ll be revisiting. The process of what? The process of taking down images/ products that infringe on your copyright.
As you may know, I created this BLM Skull Fist design for Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway and his Skulls for Justice campaign to reclaim the Punisher logo from law enforcement’s misguided use & fundraise for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. Due to the popularity of the image, several sites decided to steal it while the campaign was being run. How low do you have to be steal from a fundraiser?
This started my foray into issuing DMCA takedown requests. What is the DMCA? The Digital Millennium Content Act basically helps to protect people’s copyrights online. How do I know if a work I made is copyrighted? In the U.S., as seen as you make a work (unless you plagiarized), you own the copyright. Filing a copyright is a formality that grants you specific privilege of having that copyright officially recognized. Thankfully, when I created this logo it was widely publicized: as seen in The Guardian. This actually helped establish my copyright (I have also since filed officially). I also wrote about it on the blog and added it to my website, both which incorporate a copyright claim statement for original content. So if you’re making stuff and document it online, not a bad idea to add a copyright statement to your about/info page.
The other thing I have working for me is lawyers. It’s nice to have counsel on retainer. This was advice I learned early on. If you’re thinking, how much is a lawyer? I use Counsel for Creators. The service is $95 a month and they have a flexible scheduling appointment system. I can easily set up calls to discuss my issues and receive advice as well as send emails!
You may or may have seen these jokers (Rageon, Teepublic, Prideearth) who stole my design during the BLM fundraiser. I was able to take to get them to take down the design within 48 hours- which takes us to the process of doing a DMCA request. I was lucky enough to have publicity, lawyers & Gerry Conway on my side but what if I was just an indie creator without those things? I’d still follow the same method.
First things first, there are bots that apparently troll social media & campaign sites like Custom Ink or Bonfire, looking to steal popular designs. So, caveat emptor if you’re looking to sell your designs online. When this design hit, I was hoping it would do well, but the response has been overwhelming. So thanks to all that supported!
When thieves like this pop up, your first line of defense is to search for a mechanism to submit a DMCA takedown request. Usually, you can find it under the “Contact Us” or “legal” link. In some cases, you may have to issue a request yourself through a basic contact form. If you don’t see any of these options, search for “legal@” or “dmca@” the web address.
Filing the request, whether by form or email submission, generally needs to contain the same info. You need to state that you’re the copyright holder of the design and that the site/a user on the site does not have permission to use that design and is infringing on your copyright. You will then have to establish your ownership over the copyright: case number of your copyright filing, your intellectual property (IP) appearing somewhere officially with a date. The date is important as it establishes provenance. (Things I learn watching American Pickers, amirite?). This is also where having a lawyer comes in handy because you can inform the site/user that your lawyers are copied and/or are aware of the matter. You will have to attest to all the facts being true. Sites like ebay have a very specific email format and codes to use.
The DMCA takedown request doesn’t stop there. You should screengrab the offender a) to document and b) to publicly denounce their actions. Post about them everywhere. Tag them. Then go in and message them a DMCA takedown request on every social media platform they exist on with screengrabs. It sounds a bit scorched- earth but persistence is key…and annoyance. You mean business.
I ran a new campaign at Bonfire for the design and it got stolen again. This new round of thieves was interesting. As mentioned before, ebay is very specific about their NOCI/ Notice of Copyright infringement. They rejected me twice. However, I personally reached out to the seller and they removed my design. Kind of a “Thanks for nothing, eBay. ” That’s coming from a buyer/ seller with 100% feedback after 20+ years.
This group of offenders was tougher to deal with and included Teechip, Moteefe and knock-off Moteefeshirts and Tumblrshirt. Teechip/goteeshirt/Simi Tee/Reddit Tee responded after a couple tries.
Now let’s talk about scorched earth (funny yet sad because I’m Vietnamese and so are some of the people that stole from me). This all happened around Thanksgiving weekend and just resolved today. Moteefeshirt & Tumblrshirt (same company as far as I can tell and based in Vietnam) process their transactions through Checkoutshirt (based in the U.S. as payment processor with the page also hosted in Vietnam). As you can tell by the screengrabs, I had already gone through the aforementioned processes.
However, Moteefeshirt & Tumblrshirt offered no valid means of communication by which to submit DMCA takedown requests. So I dug.
Doing a Whois/Icann search allowed me to track down domain registrars and ISP hosts. Through the screengrabs, you can see I tracked down GMO Internet, Tenten, Hostingrocket and Cloudflare as all tied in by usage. Cloudflare and Hostingrocket are American companies so that helps. Tenten doesn’t host, but they could forward messages to their client. GMO never responded. I recall they claim to be one of Japan’s largest ISP/ domain retailers, so maybe one day they’ll face a whale instead of a guppy like me.
My friend, Anthony Pollock of Sodaandtelepaths.com, suggested I look to see whether Moteefeshirt & Tumblrshirt accepted Paypal as it would be a violation of their terms. I never thought to click to buy shirts to check card processing services. Anthony told me, hit ’em where it hurts as these overseas companies rely on payment processing. Thank the stars for people way more knowledgeable than me.
Sure enough, Paypal was an option and they did indeed have a reporting mechanism. Find it here. In fact, it appears most credit card companies do this as well. I only had to add Visa and American Express to the mix.
The bad faith operators that Moteefeshirt and/or Tumblrshirt process their payments through Checkoutshirt which uses Hostingrocket. If these sites have infringed on your copyrights, here are the email addresses I used to contact them: email@example.com (I added firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com to see if they might work), firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Stephanie@hostingrocket.com (which I discovered through this post), firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, & firstname.lastname@example.org. Just as a heads up, I also informed tumblr that their name (which I imagine is trademarked) was being used.
Here’s where I’m at now. I hope this was a good resource for anyone out there that has to deal with copyright infringement; especially, if it’s with these sites I’ve documented in particular.