Artists Trick Twitter Bots Stealing Their Art Into Selling T-Shirts That Might Get Them Sued


Twitter users have figured out how to troll art thieves, and it’s turned into a hilarious meme for a good cause.

Artists on social media have long faced the problem of bootleg merch sites reprinting their work. A print-on-demand site snapping up a design that you spent days or weeks creating so they can have it automatically printed by order on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and hats is instantaneous, and once your design is on this network of sites, it takes a legal game of whack-a-mole to get it removed.

Recently, people on Twitter began to notice just how instantaneous and automatic it is. As a matter of fact, bots are doing it indiscriminately, observed Rob Schamberger, who paints official merch for WWE. When people reply to a tweet saying they want a design on a shirt, bots zero in on those keywords, and the image in the original tweet gets uploaded on print-on-demand sites.

This artist first brought attention to the phenomenon

Image credits: robschamberger

Image credits: robschamberger

Artists immediately tested it out by asking their followers to reply to incriminating images with the magic phrase “I want this on a shirt!” Soon, the bootleg sites were offering t-shirts with MSPaint scrawl proclaiming that the site on which it can be found steals art.

Another artist’s experiment started a savage meme

Image credits: Hannahdouken

Image credits: Hannahdouken

Image credits: twetter_rebot

Image credits: NightBlader

But to turn this from an embarrassment into a disaster for sellers that thrive on art theft, Twitter users decided to bring in the big guns. Drawings of copyrighted characters, often behaving badly and urging their owner companies to take legal action (“pwease sue us daddy disney,”) proliferated. Other popular themes include support of Hong Kong’s protests against meddling by the Chinese government, and calls to look into China’s imprisonment of Uighur people in detention camps, all statements that could get print-on-demand sites based in China into legal hot water.

Twitter users are taking advantage of the art theft bots’ lack of quality control

Image credits: Nirbion

Image credits: Nirbion

Image credits: robo_friend

Image credits: robo_friend

Currently, we are on a cyberpunk battlefield in which the front pages of print-on-demand sites are plastered with crudely drawn art theft admissions, and Disney’s official Twitter account’s mentions are flooded with users asking for t-shirts in order to bait the bots to put its uploaded images up for sale. And this happened in a week. It remains to be seen whether entertainment giants like Disney and Nintendo will take legal action. Whatever the case, artists’ hope is that print-on-demand sites no longer being able to trust bots to discern what to print might force them to limit their operations.

Excellent job, Twitter

Image credits: celestia_brown

Image credits: NaomiOop

Image credits: caprienplush

Image credits: SephWan

Image credits: nakanodrawing

As an added bonus, people are realizing that asking an artist for their design on a t-shirt is a bad idea and wondering what they can do to support artists on Twitter. The cute kitty drawings and tips for expressing interest in artists’ work without attracting art thieves show that some wholesomeness has come out of the fiasco as well.

Image credits: nakanodrawing

Here’s how people reacted

Image credits: turkey_korvid

Image credits: SpookyEggsu

Image credits: lyllith

Best meme of the decade? We’ll see how it plays out.




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