TeeSpring Pulls Techdirt Products, Vaguely Calls It Copyright Infringement

TeeSpring has pulled a line of shirts Techdirt was selling, calling the shirts copyright infringement. The company refused to give a further reason.

Over the years, one of the ways Techdirt got revenue was through selling shirts. On the shirts, it says “copying is not theft”. Up until recently, no one had a problem with the sale of those shirts. Then, Techdirt received a notice saying that the shirts were infringing on copyright.

When Techdirt tried to seek clarity, they asked why. In response, TeeSpring sent Techdirt a chunk of their policy, suggesting something in there was violated. When asked for clarification, they responded with this note:

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.

Team Teespring

TechDirt says they responded by saying that they weren’t trying to debate them, they were just seeking clarification. TeeSpring responded:

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

Techdirt then commented with the following:

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.

After that, Techdirt went on to relaunch their clothing line on Threadless. So, it’s still possible to buy their shirts in the first place.

There is a lot that will likely remain unanswered in all of this. The first question that would come to mind is, “who made the complaint in the first place?” In many circumstances, a DMCA complaint will at least show who is behind the complaint even if its just a shell company. The second, which is something Techdirt is asking, is “what part of the shirt is even infringing?” After all, it is actually an original design as far as we can tell.

If the takedown was malicious in nature, there could be a host of reasons for it. One possibility is that it was designed to financially harm Techdirt. A second possibility is that it is meant as a way of censoring the site on third party services.

Unfortunately, with so many unknowns, its hard to really tell what motives are at play here. Since this is a private company being dealt with here, they are free to conduct themselves however they feel for the most part in this case. So, you can’t really point to any law they broke by any means.

From a Public Relations angle, though, this can very easily hurt the company. It suggests that you can be a loyal customer for years, then suddenly, you have your business dealings terminated with no real notice or explanation. For other businesses, this gives reason to believe that their relationship with the company will always be unstable. As a general rule, businesses do not like unpredictability. That is how this incident can hurt TeeSpring in the long run. In a market with plenty of competition, that can prove to be detrimental.

In any event, a rather surprising shakeup to say the least.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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