Yesterday, an artist on Twitter named Nana ran an experiment to test a theory.
Their suspicion was that bots were actively looking on Twitter for phrases like “I want this on a shirt” or “This needs to be a t-shirt,” automatically scraping the quoted images, and instantly selling them without permission as print-on-demand t-shirts.
Dozens of Nana’s followers replied, and a few hours later, a Twitter bot replied with a link to the newly-created t-shirt listing on Moteefe, a print-on-demand t-shirt service.
Spinning up a print-on-demand stores is dead simple with platforms like GearBubble, Printly, Printful, GearLaunch (who power Toucan Style), and many more — creating a storefront with thousands of theoretical product listings, but with merchandise only manufactured on demand through third-party printers who handles shipping and fulfillment with no inventory.
Many of them integrate with other providers, allowing these non-existent products to immediately appear on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and other stores, but only manufactured when someone actually buys them.
The ease of listing products without manufacturing them is how we end up with bizarre algorithmic t-shirts and entire stock photo libraries on phone cases. Even if they only generate one sale daily per 1,000 listings, that can still be a profitable business if you’re listing hundreds of thousands of items.
But whoever’s running these art theft bots found a much more profitable way of generating leads: by scanning Twitter for people specifically telling artists they’d buy a shirt with an illustration on it. The t-shirt scammers don’t have the rights to sell other people’s artwork, but they clearly don’t care.
Once Nana proved that this was the methodology these t-shirt sellers were using, others jumped in to subvert them.
Of course, it worked. Bots will be bots.
For me, this all raises two questions:
Who’s responsible for this infringement?
What responsibility do print-on-demand providers have to prevent infringement on their platforms?
The first question is the hardest: we don’t know. These scammers are happy to continue printing shirts because their identities are well-protected, shielded by the platforms they’re working with.
I reached out to Moteefe, who seems to be the worst offender for this particular strain of art theft. Countless Twitter bots are continually spamming users with newly-created Moteefe listings, as you can see in this search.
Unlike most print-on-demand platforms like RedBubble, Moteefe doesn’t reveal any information about the user who created the shirt listings. They’re a well-funded startup in London, and have an obligation not to allow their platform to be exploited in this way. I’ll update if I hear back from them.
Until then, be careful telling artists that you want to see their work on a shirt, unless you want dozens of scammers to use it without permission.
Or feel free to use this image, courtesy of Nakanoart.
So since these art-stealing bots are tracking your text and not reply images, I made this for you guys!
If you want something from ANY creative made into a shirt, you can use this image to tell the artist you want to buy it. So you don’t need to type it out pic.twitter.com/E9Mn2GILcb
As many of you have no doubt heard, control of the .org registry has been sold
to private interests. There have been attempts to call them to reason, like
Save .ORG, but let’s be realistic: they knew what
they’re doing is wrong, the whole time. If they were a commercial entity, our
appeals would fall on deaf ears and that would be the end of it. But, they’re
not a commercial entity - so our appeals may fall on deaf ears, but that doesn’t
have to be the end of it.
The level of corruption on display by the three organizations involved in this
scam: ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), ISOC (The
Internet Society), and PIR (Public Interest Registry), is astounding and very
illegal. If you are not familiar with the matter, click this to read a summary:
Summary of the corrupt privatization of .org
The governance of names on the internet is kind of complicated. ISOC
oversees a lot of activities in internet standards and governance, but their
role in this mess is as the parent company of PIR. PIR is responsible for
the .org registry, which oversees the governance of .org directly and
collects fees for every sale of a .org domain. ICANN is the broader
authority which oversees all domain allocation on the internet, and also
collects a fee for every domain sold. There's a complex web of documents and
procedures which govern these three organizations, and the name system as a
whole, and all three of them were involved in this process. Each of these
organizations is a non-profit, except for PIR, which in the course of this
deal is trying to convert to a B corp.
ICANN can set price limits on the sale of .org domains. In March of 2019,
they proposed removing these price caps entirely. During the period for
public comment, they received 3,300 comments against, and 6 in favor. On May
13, they removed these price caps anyway.
In November 2019, ISOC announced that they had approved the sale of PIR, the
organization responsible for .org, to Ethos Capital, for an unspecified
amount. According to
the minutes, the decision to approve this sale was unanimously voted on
by the board. Additionally, it seems that Goldman Sachs had been involved in
the sale to some degree.
Fadi Chehadé became the CEO of ICANN in 2012. In 2016, he leaves his
position before it expires to start a consulting company, and he later joins
Abry Partners. One of the 3 partners is Erik Brooks. They later acquire
Donuts, a private company managing domains. Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett
becomes the CEO of PIR in December 2018. On May 7th, Chehadé registers
EthosCapital.com, and on May 13th ICANN decided to remove the price caps
despite 0.2% support from the public. On May 14th, the following day, Ethos
Capital was incorporated, with Brooks as the CEO. In November 2019, ISOC
approved the acquisition of PIR by Ethos Capital, a for-profit company.
These are the names of the criminals who sold the internet. If you want to
read more, Private Internet Access has a good write-up.
Okay, now let's talk about what you can do about it.
If you are familiar with the .org heist, then like me, you’re probably pissed
off. Here’s how you can take action: all of these organizations are 501c3
non-profits. The sale of a non-profit to a for-profit entity like this is
illegal without very specific conditions being met. Additionally, this kind of
behavior is not the sort the IRS likes to see in a tax-exempt organization.
Therefore, we can take the following steps to put a stop to this:
Write to the CA and VA attorney general offices encouraging them to
investigate the misbehavior of these three non-profits, which are
incorporated in their respective states.
File form 13909 with the IRS, encouraging them to review the organization’s
This kind of behavior is illegal. The sale of a non-profit requires a letter
from the Attorneys General in both California (ICANN) and Virginia (ISOC, PIR).
Additionally, much of this behavior qualifies as “self-dealing”, or leveraging
one’s power within an organization for their own benefit, rather than the
benefit of the organization. To report this, I’ve prepared a letter to the CA
and VA Attorney’s General offices, which you can read here:
I encourage you to consider writing a letter of your own, but I would not
recommend copying and pasting this letter. However, this kind of behavior is
also illegal in the eyes of the IRS, and a form is provided for this purpose.
Form 13909 is the appropriate means for reporting this behavior. You can
download a pre-filled form here, and I do encourage you to submit one this
This only includes complaints for ICANN and ISOC, as PIR is seeking to lose its
non-profit status anyway. You can print out the PDF, fill in your details on
both pages, and mail it to the address printed on the form; or you can download
the ODG, open it up with LibreOffice Draw, and fill in the remaining details
digitally, then email it to the address shown on the page.1
Happy Thanksgiving! Funny how this all happened right when the American public
would be distracted…
Crash course in LibreOffice Draw: press F2, then click and drag to make a new textbox. Select text and use Ctrl+[ to reduce the font size to something reasonable. The red button on the toolbar along the top will export the result as a PDF. ↩
There's no group chat member more enigmatic than the cool person who you all assume has the chat on mute, but who then instantly chimes in with no delay the moment something relevant to them is mentioned.