The Digital Millenium Copyright Act or DMCA is a lengthy act created to resolve and solidify a myriad of copyright concerns on the internet. If you are a designer in the Print on Demand industry (for Redbubble, Society6, Teespring, Teepblic, etc.) it is well worth your time to read this legislation so that you understand your rights, especially if you tend to delve into fan art or dabble in copyrighted materials in your work. Section 512 and its safe harbor provision of the DMCA was specifically included to protect bulletin board operators in the early days of the internet. This section was intended to limit the liability of a bulletin board operator when a user uploads a file that contained copyright material. Companies like Redbubble and other print on demand services have embraced this section and used it to allow users to upload and sell copyrighted materials. There is an ongoing court case brought by Atair (yes that Atari, but it is owned by other people not) against Redbubble for selling clothing and accessories featuring copyrighted materials from Atari. This case could fundamentally change the entire print on demand industry.
What do they know?
The court case alleges that Redbubble knowingly sells copyrighted materials, Anyone who sells or buys on Redbubble and most other print on demand services know full well that designed featuring copyrighted materials is extremely easy to find and purchase.
Then, to be eligible for the safe harbor under Section 512, Redbubble must prove that “(1) it lacked actual or red flag knowledge of the infringing material; and (2) it did not receive a ‘financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity.’”
Redbubble like most other PoD services knows full well that their designers often upload work that features copyrighted material, and we all know they do very little to police this activity. Bloggers and Vloggers like myself try to spread the word to the PoD design community that using copyrighted materials is not a good path to success and open you up to litigation by the copyright holders. I try to make this very clear in my writing, and you can find many articles here which point out the dangers of using copyrighted materials in your designs.
As this case continues we will report on the findings, Selling copyrighted materials is not right, and there needs to be industry-wide reform. Designers should not be able to promote or sell copyrighted materials and I have heard from hundreds of designers that feel this one issue reduces the viability of the PoD industry as a safe and viable source of passive income.
Here is a link to an article on the court case. I encourage you to not only keep up to date on this case but be a voice of reason and help other PoD designers to understand that using copyright materials only hurts the industry as a whole.
It is worthwhile to speculate whether this court case is somehow related to the recent mass banning of accounts on Redbubble. I wonder if the designers that had accounts banned perhaps had a design with an Atari property tagged on contained in the work. AS of this writing, we still don’t have clear reasoning behind the mass banning, so who knows if this court case is related in some way.