Redbubble.com hosts over 400,000 artists where original pieces can be imposed onto just about any product imaginable at a cheap price. Redbubble’s mission statement is “creating the world’s largest marketplace for independent artists, bringing more creativity into the world.” The purpose of Redbubble and its mission statement is to serve as a middleman for artists, but recently this service has inadvertently cost artists thousands of sales. After posting art online artists will find that somebody else has taken their art and uploaded it Redbubble for others to buy and for them to make no money off of their own work. Also many independent creators will have their IP stolen from them and made into merchandise that they will never see a cent of.
If you search Redbubble’s policies you will find this, “Redbubble is a community built on respect and recognition of artists. We ask, rather we beg, that you remember this when you are posting work on Redbubble. If you make sure that all the works you upload consist of your very own, original ideas and are not infringing on the intellectual property or publicity rights of another, you will help us foster the supportive and creative environment that is Redbubble. AND, besides being counter to all that Redbubble stands for, stealing other people’s work and passing it off as your own is against the law.” Following that is an explanation of copyright law, trademarks and publicity rights.
Regardless of what Redbubble claims on their website this issue is still causing problems for many creators. I’ll use the example of the popular podcasters on the show My Brother, My Brother and Me. The creators have been very vocal about how they want fans to buy merchandise off of their official website rather than on Redbubble. One creator even tweeted, “I’ve asked before, but I figure it bears repeating, if you’re somebody who care about the stuff we make and are selling unlicensed items based on our stuff on Redbubble, etc. could you please not do that?” If you were to search “My Brother, My Brother and Me” on Redbubble right now you would get 2,681 results of products. None of the sales would go to the creators.
If you were an artist that saw your art being reposted on Redbubble the site would inform you to, “notify Redbubble’s designated agent for complaints by sending a Notice and Takedown Report, which must include the following important information:
- an electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the relevant matter;
2. a description of the matter claimed to have been infringed;
3. a description of where the claimed infringing content is located on the Redbubble site.
This method seems like it could work but in realty it falls flat. After being notified that a post violates copyright law all the poster has to do is take it down and then reload it later with no repercussions unless another claim is filed. This happened to artist Avi Ehrlich’s artwork that was uploaded at least 26 different Redbubble users that made it available for sale on over 50 items.
To solve this problem I offer two solutions. First, content creators that want to protect their intellectual property should be able to fill out a form listing hashtags that relate to their IP. A Redubble representative will familiarize themselves with the creators’ work and determine if the hashtags are applicable. From that point if a secondary poster tries to upload a post with one of the predetermined hashtags the post will not upload.
Next, to protect artists from having their original works reposted I propose refining the system of reporting stolen work. Once an upload has been reported as being stolen a copy of the file should be stored in a database and every time a poster wants to upload artwork their image will be checked in the database to see if it has been uploaded and taken down before. The process will be similar to Google’s reverse image search and will protect artists like Avi Ehrlich from having their work reloaded multiple times.
If Redbubble wants to remain faithful to their mission statement and support the artists that make their website successful they need to take copyright matters more seriously. If that includes hiring more people or creating a division to specifically cater to copyright infringements then Redbubble must be willing to do that and more in order to stay true to their mission statement.