Teespring Takes Down Our Copying Is Not Theft Gear, Refuses To Say Why

from the so-now-it's-on-threadless dept

At Techdirt we’re no strangers to people disagreeing — often, let’s say, vehemently — with our views on copyright. But I’ve still often been surprised by how angry some people get about the simple, factual observation that copying is not theft. We’ve made the point many times (and it remains true even if you think copyright infringement is a dastardly crime), and a few years ago we put it on a t-shirt and some other products via the print-on-demand platform Teespring, where we sell a bunch of gear. But you won’t find the shirt at those links anymore, because last week we received notice from Teespring that it had been taken down… supposedly for copyright infringement.

At first, it seemed like this was likely a simple error from an automated system (the takedown notification explained that it was not based on a complaint from a third party) and I suspected we had been caught up in Teespring’s response to an unrelated (and amusing) phenomenon that was taking place at the same time: a bunch of artists and others online were aiming to prove that there are bots out there copying artwork from social media and selling it on print-on-demand sites, by spreading funny and extremely-infringing images which did, indeed, show up on several print-on-demand t-shirts soon afterwards.

It would hardly be surprising if this spurred print-on-demand services into a not-too-discerning copyright sweep of existing products that the Copying Is Not Theft gear somehow got caught up in. As we are constantly pointing out, content moderation at scale is impossible to do well. I figured that a quick email to the “IP Escalations” address offered in the takedown notification, clarifying that the design does not in fact include any “third-party content” as the notification claimed, would get it reinstated. But to my surprise, they responded that they could not reinstate the campaign because it violates Teespring’s Acceptable Use Policies. One of the six policies is about intellectual property — explicitly the problem according to the initial notification email — but they offered no response to my claim that the content was entirely original, and it seemed they were backing down from the IP angle and just going for a vague response of “it violates one of these five other rules”. Since it certainly contains no nudity, hate speech, or violence, I can only assume they believe it either “promotes illegal activity” or (less likely given the definitions on their policy page) contains “false or misleading claims”.

Unfortunately all I can do is guess, because it seems like they really don’t like being asked for an explanation. Upon first asking what policy we violated, I got a reply simply linking to the same policy page with no additional information. I clarified that I’d read the page, that we were not in violation of any of the policies, and asked which of the six in the list was the issue. It was at this point their true feelings started to peek through the mandatory please-and-thanks language of customer service:

We apologize if you disagree with our decision and for any inconvenience this matter has caused. Please understand that we are not in a position to debate our policies or discuss this issue further; however, your feedback has been noted and we truly appreciate your time today.

Sincerely,
Team Teespring

I told them I wasn’t seeking a debate, and just wanted to know what policy we violated, and…

You’ve been advised three times that the content has violated our acceptable use policy. You have been provided with the links to this policy for further information. This policy and choice to remove the content are not up for discussion. We apologize if you disagree with the decision. You will not receive anymore communication from us on this matter.

Thank you,
Team Teespring

And so apparently that’s that. I enjoy the sleight-of-hand in claiming that a list of six policies is an answer to my question of which specific policy we violated (and the sudden switch in their language from plural to singular when I emphasized this question), and the fact that the “IP Escalations” department we were specifically told to contact if we believed the takedown was in error considers this “not up for discussion”. It seems most likely that someone at Teespring believes the phrase “copying is not theft” is promoting illegal acts, when in fact its purpose is to emphasize an important legal (and ethical, and practical) distinction that should be obvious but that a surprising number of people casually ignore or actively oppose — and, as noted, it remains important even if you are a supporter of strong copyright laws.

Of course, Teespring is free to take down our stuff without an explanation or even a reason if it wants, and it doesn’t have to offer an escalation contact at all, let alone a helpful one. And if it’s true there was some sort of sweep going on and lots of people were contesting takedowns, we may still have simply been victims of sheer scale — though the unhelpful emails still make it clear that the decision was examined and confirmed by an actual human, so I’m still quite curious about the official rationale. But since it’s “not up for discussion,” the more important conclusion here is that it’s time to start exploring alternatives to Teespring for our various lines of Techdirt gear.

So today we’re relaunching the Copying Is Not Theft gear in our new store on Threadless.

For now we’re just testing the waters with this new platform — the product lines and pricing are a bit different, which means some options are gone (no stickers for now) but we’re also able to add some cool new ones, including notebooks, phone cases, buttons, bags and more!

If all goes well, we may consider moving all our designs over to the Threadless store, or we may end up exploring some other options in the future. For now, get yourself some gear and remember: Copying Is Not Theft!

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Companies: techdirt, teespring

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Comments on “Teespring Takes Down Our Copying Is Not Theft Gear, Refuses To Say Why”

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80 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Not only not theft, but perfectly legal.

Recording broadcast programs is perfectly legal. That is in fact making a copy. It isn’t theft and the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984) that that was the law of the land. Now if one records a program and then tries to sell that copy, that would be wrong, and is definitely against the law. But this slogan ‘Copying is not theft’ says nothing about copying and then selling copies.

Conjecture, therefore leads me, for one, to believe that Teespring is bowing to pressure from some copyright maximalists who may or may not be threatening to remove their business from Teespring (or are pressuring them in some other way), and Teespring appears to value their volume of business (or fear whatever other threat was made) more than the volume of business from Techdirt. That tells us a lot about the integrity of the folks at Teespring.

I hope the new venue stands up better than the last one did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not only not theft, but perfectly legal.

If you jump on one side or the other of a controversey you can cut yourself off from profiting from one side or the other if you are in the business of expanding your reach in order to gobble up the doe. That is business 101. It doesn’t say a whole lot for their conviction on the matter, but these days who can blame them?

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Time to break out that translator...

‘You violated one of our rules.’

‘Which one?’

‘Figure it out yourself, we have no interest in explaining it.’

Translation: Someone, maybe within the company, maybe a well-off customer, complained about how the design really hurt their feelings, and rather than tell that person to deal with it they decided to pull the design and refuse to admit to the actual reason.

If they had a good reason they would have given the good reason, the fact that they refused to be specific and then got defensive when asked for details rather strongly suggests that they don’t want to admit to why they pulled it, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in it being a good reason.

Pity, pretty sure two of the t-shirts in my closet are from them, but if this is how they act looks like I’ll be added them to the ‘avoid if possible’ list.

Bobvious says:

Re: "You know what you did"

This was/is SCO(XQ) vs Linux.

https://slashdot.org/story/06/06/30/1352212/judge-calls-sco-on-lack-of-evidence

https://yro.slashdot.org/story/03/10/26/1723212/sco-asks-ibm-to-make-scos-case-for-it

http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=20060414162430240

http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=20060420142847836

Khym Chanur (profile) says:

Re: Re: "You know what you did"

SCO didn’t say "You know what you did". Instead, it said "We’d love to tell you what you did, but our contractual obligations with third parties legally prevents us from telling you. So sorry, but our hands are tied". Not that I’m defending SCO, it’s just that their excuse was both more entertaining and more infuriating than a simply "you know what you did".

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What?

Copying isn’t theft because theft specifically requires depriving the person of the thing which is stolen.

Copying something doesn’t do that. The person still posses the thing you copied.

You can argue the person is harmed in some way by the copying in terms of lost income, but you can’t rationally argue it’s theft. Because words have meanings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Because words have meanings.

Sometimes. Other times, people dismiss that view as presciptivism and say that words mean whatever the people using them think they mean. "Language evolves."

I don’t believe copying is theft, but even Techdirt authors refer to people who copy without authorization as "pirates".

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Since you seem to be claiming ‘copying is theft’, here’s something interesting:

Human babies (and some birds) learn to speak by copying the speech capable humans around them. So are you claiming to have made your argument with stolen words?

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

If I copy a file I created from my laptop’s hard drive to an external hard drive, what have I stolen?

If I copy a file that I legally purchased in the same way, what have I stolen?

If I copy handwritten notes into a digital text file, what have I stolen?

The act of copying, in and of itself, is not theft. At worst, it can be copyright infringement, which even the Supreme Court says isn’t theft. And whether it’s infringement depends largely on the context of the act, not the act itself.

Ergo, copying is not theft, and arguing otherwise is a fool’s errand.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You should probably tell the judicial system about your rather “novel” theory bro. As they seem to regard it mostly as a civil action and not a criminal one. But hey who am I to tell you not to believe in a garbage sack of a theory that’s been debunked on this blog about ten thousand times this year alone.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do you also propose kids steal the alphabet when they write it down in school copying down what the teacher is writing on the board?


To say copying isn’t theft because the money would be spent on other things ignores that the person from whom the work is stolen also would have spent the money on other things.

Oh damn I just stole from you. Better sue me for damages!

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Michael says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know who has made that argument, but it was not made in this article or in the comments above.

While piracy has economic impact, having an economic impact is not theft. I can be driving slow in front of you making you late for work – if you get fired, I did not steal your job (and you probably should have left the house earlier).

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Let’s examine two scenarios. The first, as I stated above, it is perfectly legal to record broadcasts. The source does not matter, it could be TV (free over the air with ads), Cable (paid, but also with ads), or Satellite (also paid and also with ads), and I don’t even have to be home during that recording. I can then, perfectly legally, edit out the commercials and save that file for future enjoyment (or torture depending on the quality of the program recorded). The rights holder received their compensation from whatever deals they made with the broadcasting entities and advertisers, whether I watch those ads or not.

The second scenario is a program that is downloaded via a torrent. The rights holder is in exactly the same financial position as in scenario number one.

So, who lost money?

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re: piracy doesn't matter

Who lost money: the creator of content that tends to get pirated. The corporations who sell content can tell when Show or Movie X makes more than Show or Movie Y. Then they make more of X and less of Y. If you are a content creator who tends to make Y, then you are shit out of luck.

The complication is, maybe Y is less popular because it appeals to those who pirate and don’t pay, while X is the reverse. Or maybe there are other economic, social or taste trends in the mix. You can’t untangle it, you can only say: stuff that is pirated and not paid for will go away; stuff that is paid for (regardless of whether it is alos pirated) will stick around and we’ll get more of it.

It doesn’t matter if Game of Thrones is pirated up the wazoo, as long as it also has a very healthy paid audience, to fund those multi-billion dollar production costs. Stuff that gets pirated a lot also tends to get paid for a lot, suggesting that piracy is just an unimportant aftereffect of an otherwise perfectly robust economic system.

So ultimately piracy does not matter. The thing that matters is: if somebody is willing to pay for X, and how much they are willing to pay.

Corporations route around piracy for example by making movies that really need to be seen on a huge movie theater screen with booming sound systems, and are based on huge brands that generate social hoopla. That’s how we end up with movie theater industry that is all about Avengers: Endgame and similar franchise blockbusters. The fact that you can’t actually pirate the prime experience of Avengers: Endgame (unless you sneak into a theater by the back door I guess) isn’t a coincidence.

The more pirate-able movie types that don’t depend on the theatrical experience for their appeal, are going extinct or being driven to streaming, where cheapness and convenience are the innoculation against piracy. I get Netflix for $9/month and there’s too much to watch. Why the hell would I bother with piracy to save such a trivial amount? Just a clean, convenient interface and reliable service is worth that small sum.

Corporations are good at stuff like that so no reason to fret. It’s not like piracy is shutting off the creation of content. Just the reverse – there’s more than ever, too much for any sane person to consume, regardless of whether you pay for it. It’s time, not money, that is the gating factor now. Tell me when someone figures out how to pirate time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 piracy doesn't matter

Here’s a thought experiment for you.

First, think about if your government is generally competent in most things.

Second, think about whether your government over criminalizes in such a way that they declare things to be illegal and label it something then engage in it themselves without creating a loophole for themselves, or for people acting in good faith cooperating with them.

Third, consider whether a government body may create a definition in such a way that you can in fact treat time as something that can be applicable.

Fourth, think about whether the same government body may make the definition in such a way that when you are presented with normal life choices, it doesn’t matter what option you choose, you are technically a label just because the choice ever existed to begin with.

Your government wouldn’t declare everyone including themselves to be a label. Would they?

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"To say copying isn’t theft because the money would be spent on other things ignores that the person from whom the work is stolen also would have spent the money on other things."

So home cooking is harmful to restaurants and therefore should be outlawed?

ANY form of home manufacture which results in the person NOT spending the money on the products of another is a Bad Thing (TM)?

I believe this is the copyright argument in a nutshell and clearly demonstrates WHY copying is not and never can be considered "theft".

But you knew that already Baghdad bob and just keep repeating the copyright maximalist line in the vague hope that someday, sometime you will not get called on your flagrant bullshit.

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Anonymous Coward says:

What’s the point of having an "IP Escalations" email address if they’re just going to respond with "Go read our policy. End of discussion" ?

I wonder how they’d feel if they got an annoying number of these:

TO: teespring email address

Dear Teespring,

I’ve recently read (link to this article) about the removal of a product from your site due to an alleged violation of your Acceptable Use Policy, and your refusal to discuss the issue with the affected party.

Of course, you are free to take whatever actions you believe are necessary and legal in the operation of your business. However, your unhelpful and dismissive response is, at best, a shining example of how not to provide customer service.

Such terrible service has consequences. Therefore, I will not be purchasing any merchandise from your site. I will also advise anyone looking for a service like yours for selling merchandise to do so with one of your competitors, who might be more willing to explain a policy violation and also allow an opportunity to correct it.

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David says:

Re: Re:

What’s the point of having an "IP Escalations" email address if they’re just going to respond with "Go read our policy. End of discussion" ?

That does sound like an escalation, doesn’t it? Reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch "argument clinic".

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ECA (profile) says:

LOVE it..

How complicated can we make this world..
(my hands arent working well to day, excuse mis-typing)
copying isnt theft.
Its the SALE of goods that is theft..(and part reason I do not ask money for many things I do for others)

Can you see someone TM/CR mowing your yard, in a new way that does this and that.. LIKE, the new fangled Lawnmowers that can spin in place and soforth. Do you think its new?? Nothing it does is new. Its the transmission from tanks made in the 1930’s.. And they Bought it up, and Scare people that its THEIR copyright.

the secret to all of this, is that you can Build it yourself…
Lets create a company, where the customer has to come in and help Build a Certain, Car/truck/mower/ what ever..Its the highest end and quality, and has all the Fangled special parts.. AND ITS CHEAP, because the owner has installed the parts.. NO $40-120 hr labor…
How much does the owner need to do, to be responsible for building a product.??? 10%, 20%??
Its his/hers…THEY built it.. and there is nothing the corps can do..

Then there is that Funny thing they have been trying to pass in congress that A third party CAN BE responsible for what a person says/does/will do….(only because they cant sue the person AFTER the fact).. Like suing the sales person for your NEW crap car, after the wheels fell off. Lets sue the pharmacist, because your Drugs arnt working..

Sue everyone because you had a GIRL child insted of a boy??

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: tsth intentionally trolling?

" I guess it wasn’t a good joke. But I am triggered that you misspelled me"

It might have been – if Poe’s Law hadn’t ensured that in fact your "joke" is an actual argument made by a few copyright maximalists around lately.

Yes, the defense of copyright is scraping the bottom of the barrel for arguments THAT hard.

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MikeVx (profile) says:

Not surprised at the stupid there.

I tried to order something from those lackwits, and the screw-up was severe. Suffice it to say that I consider sites using Teespring for sales to be making false claims about having stuff for sale.

StackSocial is no better. I tried to order some things, they would not process my payment and would not tell me why. They suggested using PayPal. "I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid."

How does Techdirt make any money off these morons?

Anonymous Coward says:

re: copyright is not theft

Follow the money.

Somebody wants to make money from the slogan “Copyright is not theft”.

You are doing it (or should be).

That Somebody referenced above may have engaged your producer of goods with the cited slogan with a sweet[er] cash split than you are paying. — The quickest way to get rid of you is a DMCA takedown with collusion with the t-shirt printing company.

This is my hypothesis. If you want to investigate and prove/disprove my hypothesis, then have fun doing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

re: copyright is not theft

Follow the money.

Somebody wants to make money from the slogan “Copyright is not theft”.

You are doing it (or should be).

That Somebody referenced above may have engaged your producer of goods with the cited slogan with a sweet[er] cash split than you are paying. — The quickest way to get rid of you is a DMCA takedown with collusion with the t-shirt printing company.

This is my hypothesis. If you want to investigate and prove/disprove my hypothesis, then have fun doing it.

Usagi says:

CINT Design

I know this is old but teespring isn’t really good at providing additional information for why things are especially in regards to questions posted on their forum which seems to have disappeared. Apparently, the title ‘Copying Is Not Theft’ is used elsewhere in different forms but a notable version is a song of the same name. Good to see you found another platform, which helped me as well, and the subject in itself is still a confusing one for many.

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