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How Pranksters Tricked Twitter-Scraping Sites Into Copyright Infringement

An anonymous reader shares a remarkable story from Fortune’s Data Sheet newsletter:

The story begins on Dec. 3, when an artist going by @Hannahdouken on Twitter posted an image of hand-drawn text reading, “This site sells STOLEN Artwork, do NOT buy from them!” And asked followers to reply that they wanted the image on a shirt.

They were testing a theory. For years, artists posting their work online have found the art turned into t-shirts and other merch without permission or compensation. The theory was that this was being done by automated bots that combed Twitter for images with such enthusiastic replies, and then automatically created merch on sites such as Gearbubble, copthistee, and Teeshirtpublic…

Sure enough, automated bots picked up @Hannahdouken’s image and placed it on t-shirts…
They report that other Twitter users then took the stunt even further, including one who “had a theory: See if he could bait the bots into copyright infringement, and just maybe, a pricey lawsuit.” So they produced a drawing of a particularly sassy Mickey Mouse with the caption “This is NOT a parody. We committed copyright infringement and want to be sued by Disney.”

His version of the stunt succeeded spectacularly. First, the bots came out of the woodwork, drawn by hundreds of tweets from people saying they wanted the image on a t-shirt. Then other artists repeated the trick with infringing images including Pikachu, Mario, and the Coca-Cola logo….

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