The Trouble with Teespring
Are People Aware They are Filling Their Closets With Stolen Designs?
Budding designers have for years been given a helping hand in bringing their designs to life by t-shirt printing. Marketplaces like teespring.com and cafepress.com give entrepreneurs the platform to get their designs printed on t-shirts and other products without having to pay any start-up costs. Although this sounds like a great idea, it is actually a breeding ground for copyright infringing goods. With the most basic details, anyone can sign up to one of these marketplaces and start selling stolen designs and then disappear as soon as they are caught. By the time the brand has found out, they will have already made a profit at their expense.
So, how do websites like Teespring.com work?
Websites like Teespring allow people to create designs online and then sell them via their own online marketplace. Very little or nothing is needed from the user to identify whether they are the owner of the rights to the images or not. A full “shop” of products can be created in minutes with no start-up costs whatsoever. To make a profit, the company will take a percentage of the sale. The products are printed to order, which not only saves on initial start-up costs but also stops wastage from unsold inventory. The seller gets the remainder of the profit after the company has taken their cut. Often with websites like this, the seller has the ability to set their own margin.
What are the problems with online printing marketplaces?
As convenient as online printing marketplaces are for, say, Youtubers selling their merchandise, they are a huge problem for established brands. Joining a website as a seller like Teespring or Cafepress requires little or no background checks. In fact, Cafepress gives sellers the ability to sign in via their social media profiles, which could easily be faked. The trouble with marketplaces like this is that fraudulent sellers could use a brands logo, sell a number of products to make a profit from them and then disappear. No matter how big or small the fraudsters shop is, this is all money taken out of the pocket of the brand.
What happened with Harley Davidson and Sunfrog?
Although Harley Davidson is a motorbike company, a lot of their revenue comes from the merchandising side of the business. In 2017, Harley Davidson sold almost $300 million worth of merchandise (source: https://abovethelaw.com/2018/04/what-harley-davidsons-19-2m-throttling-of-sunfrog-really-means-and-its-not-the-money/?rf=1). Sunfrog Shirts are one of the largest online retailers of printed t-shirts in the world, and although it should not have come as a surprise to them they were sued for selling unauthorized Harley Davidson designs via its platform, the groundbreaking amount of $19.2 million awarded to Harley Davidson may have given them a surprise. The main issue with Sunfrog was that they grew too quickly with no foresight into what they would do if this situation arose. The judge in the case made it clear it should be blindingly obvious people given the control over t-shirt designs will use the designs of others to make a profit, but Sunfrog failed to see this far ahead.
How easy is it to sign up for one of these websites?
We decided to put some of the more well-known platforms to the test and find out just how easy it is to sign up to start selling designs. The verification process for many of these marketplaces is open to a number of vulnerabilities that mean someone could sign-up, advertise their shirts, make a profit, and then disappear forever.
To sign up for an account with Teespring users only need an email address and a password. As soon as this has been entered you are invited to “start designing” on the website. Some further details are required like telephone and address, but nothing is required that could not easily be entered fraudulently. The payout is made by Paypal, which again is easy to set up with very few verification details.