Some companies, such as Disney and Nintendo, are particularly well-known in California and nationwide for their ardent pursuit of copyright infringement claims against people selling counterfeit items. However, counterfeiting issues that trouble huge companies with massive intellectual property resources can also impact small, independent artists. Many of these artists publish and share their artwork on social media sites such as Twitter or Tumblr. In the past, counterfeiting tended to require some thought and preparation on the part of another human. Nowadays, numerous websites utilize bots to automatically scan the web for viral images and accumulate them on print-on-demand sites that sell T-shirts, mugs and other items that are printed only when someone makes an order.
These on-demand sites typically utilize carefully coded bots that search popular social media sites for images that receive high levels of social engagement in the form of likes and or shares. These bots may even be specially programmed to search for line-drawings or cartoon images rather than photographs. Notably, some bots are sophisticated enough to identify which artwork images have received comments like “I wish that was on a shirt” from the general public. The continual advancement of these bots has left thousands of independent artists finding their artwork for sale with little opportunity to fight back against these intellectual property bandits.
However, some independent artists have developed an innovative way to leverage the copyright enforcement teams of companies like Disney and Nintendo to bring down the infringing sites. Artists and fans have deliberately posted poorly drawn fan art of popular Disney and Nintendo characters on their social media. From there, the artists ask their followers to reply with comments encouraging the sale of merchandise that displays the artwork. The aim is to get the bots to pick up the images, display them on their sites and consequently deal with intellectual property and copyright infringement complaints from the big corporations’ lawyers.
However, artists and creators may be looking for more direct ways to protect themselves from counterfeiting and other forms of online abuse of their creative ideas. An intellectual property attorney may advise on how people can protect their trademarks and copyrights.