Blog / 2019 / Let’s Play “Name That Copyright Violation”

June 1, 2019

#FixRedbubble, art by Lisa Patencio, Jolie Buchanan, Marie-Armelle Borel, Lenaliluna, Linda Ursin, and me
art by Lisa Patencio, Jolie Buchanan, Marie-Armelle Borel, Lenaliluna, Linda Ursin, and me

These are artworks that Redbubble has censored because they “may contain material that violates someone’s rights.”

Can you guess whose copyright these works may violate?

I bet some of them seem obvious—a pinch of Frida Kahlo, a dash of Disney (who now owns Star Wars), and a hint of the Little Prince. There’s a kind of “duh” feeling to my question as it relates to three of these pieces.

But, ignoring for the moment the three other censored artworks (the ones you can’t place), the Kahlo, Disney, and Little Prince images aren’t actually so obviously wrong.

Marie-Armelle Borel’s Frida
Marie-Armelle Borel’s art

Marie-Armelle Borel’s art is not a copyright violation, and, by claiming that it is, Redbubble seems to be asserting that the Frida Kahlo Foundation controls all likenesses of the artist. In other words, Redbubble is saying that a face can be owned.

But it can’t. Not even by Kahlo herself. She might have a right to control uses of her likeness, but that’s about privacy, not the ownership of a face.

The foundation is massively exaggerating the power of its copyright. It is seeking to own Kahlo wholly, and Redbubble is enabling the foundation’s deplorable behavior.

Lisa Patencio’s Yoda
Lisa Patencio’s art

This image may seem like the most indisputable copyright violation of the six, but Disney’s claim isn’t as solid as you might think. The symbol on Yoda’s robe is the tribal logo of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and the creator of this piece is Lisa Patencio, a Native American artist.

In a world where Native American culture is still constantly being appropriated by non-indigenous creators and corporations alike, Lisa’s use of Yoda feels different than a non-indigenous artist’s. It’s a reminder that, though copyright is the law, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Copyright tends to benefit those with money and power over those without, and, if we are to be an ethical society, that imbalance needs to be addressed.

the Little Prince escaping with parrots
Gwenn Seemel
Parroted Prince
acrylic on unmounted canvas
12 x 12 inches

My remix of the Little Prince replaces the “wild birds” in Saint-Exupéry’s book with parrots. What’s more, on my version of B 612, one of the volcanoes is erupting with ©s. All of which is to say that not only is this image protected by the fair use limitation on copyright, but it is also a critique of that law.

It shows how imitation (birds that are known for copying) saves creativity (a kid with an unlimited imagination) from the suffocating control of the © (fiery death and stoney entombment by copyright lava). My Parroted Prince is a call to artists everywhere. Imitate! Save our creativity!

And what about the three other artworks?

The ones whose supposed violations you can’t even begin to suss out? The ones by Jolie Buchanan, Lenaliluna, and Linda Ursin?

Redbubble cannot keep deleting art because it “may contain material that violates someone’s rights.” The print-on-demand site must give creators a full explanation for the censoring it is doing. The company must stop stonewalling artists who question their decisions. Redbubble needs to fix itself, or creators will #FixRedbubble.

Please share this meme everywhere!

Check out #FixRedbubble on Instagram (where the alogrithmic editing of the timeline has the least effect) or on Facebook or Twitter.

Not selling through Redbubble but having similar issues on another print-on-demand site? Use #FixRedbubble as well as a hashtag that names your POD marketplace (#FixYourPrintOnDemandSite) and post about it! Then share your site-specific hashtag with me so that we can work together to force these marketplaces to recognize that they don’t have a business without us.


November 14, 2019

Since publishing this article, I have learned more about how Frida Kahlo’s imagery is being controlled. This article describes that sad mess in greater detail.


November 12, 2020

Since trying to launch the #FixRedbubble campaign, I have deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts, meaning that much of the content may have disappeared.

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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