Blog / 2019 / Dear Redbubble: You Do Not Understand Copyright.

May 15, 2019

When anti-copyright advocates talk about how copyright is a form of censorship, most people tune out. Copyright is not a fun topic anyway, and, when you question its validity, most people roll their eyes, preferring to cling to the “copyright = good for artists” paradigm. Add a dollop of censorship to this boring legal sandwich and you couldn’t pay most people to take a bite.

But I am asking you today, as a personal favor from you to me, to give this censorship sandwich a lick, because the print-on-demand shop I work with just took down another one of my images without cause. (Just like they did in March.)

Donald Trump holding a syringe full of bull crap and surrounded by the destruction of his Presidency
Gwenn Seemel
Hello Sh*tty, Available in a White House Near You! (Grab Him by His Pussy.)
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
(Learn more about the Hello Kitty reference in this painting here.)

This is the image Redbubble removed.

(Yes, I know, me too. I am SO TIRED of this image being censored. I’m about ready to self-censor it out of existence with a hammer at this point.)

The company is telling me that the Hello Kitty people over at Sanrio have a claim on this painting. The only way that I can get my image reinstated in my Redbubble shop is to get written permission from Sanrio.

But that is a ridiculous request, because my image is completely legal, protected by the fair use limitation on copyright law.

You are not required to ask permission from a copyright holder if you are using their copyrighted material in a transformative manner—like, for example, to make social commentary.

In other words, Redbubble is censoring my art without cause.

Donald Trump Hello Kitty as Pepe the Frog on a gallon jug of milk in a disgusting mash-up of white supremacy symbols
detail of Hello Sh*tty

It’s possible that Sanrio actually requested this takedown (because of the attention my image received last month), but it’s just as likely that Redbubble is doing a preemptive removal.

Donald Trump Hello Kitty hypnotic headphones
detail of Hello Sh*tty

Meanwhile, I don’t have a legal team, so I have no way to scare Redbubble into upholding the law. That’s the way it goes: companies team up on independent creatives (like TED and YouTube did to me in 2015). They unthinkingly waste freelancers’ time by requiring them to fight to undo the thing that should never have been done in the first place.

Donald Trump confederate Hello Kitty carved into the butt of a rifle
detail of Hello Sh*tty

All of which is to say that it would make me so happy if you, dear reader who has kindly licked this censorship sandwich, would now choose to take a bite! Copyright may not be the yummiest, but learning about it does feed you.

This movie, this book by Lawrence Lessig, or my TEDx talk are all good places to start. None of us can defeat corporate bullies on our own, but together we can shift the paradigm and get companies to stop acting like a law unto themselves.

Donald Trump Hello Kitty golf club coverings
detail of Hello Sh*tty

The original Hello Sh*tty painting is still available for $2500 plus shipping—see all currently available artworks.


May 31, 2019

Redbubble’s censorhip of Hello Sh*itty inspired me to take real action. I launched #FixRedbubble, a place to share stories of print-on-demand copyright censorship! And Redbubble is scared enough of #FixRedbubble to try to appease me by reinstating the Trump portrait. But I won’t be distracted by a one time concession on one artwork. I’m not backing down until the company changes its policy and starts sharing DMCA takedown notices with creators.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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