Shirtwascash is a user-submitted design website for apparel. Every day our community on /r/shirtwascash submits their ideas for a chance to become real shirts. Then on a monthly basis we all vote together and pick which ones are the best. I then take a week to find the original artists and IP holders to LICENSE their artwork. This seemed like a no-brainer for me when I launched but I am seemingly alone in this idea.
Some Survey Results
First and foremost I chose this route because I want to be able to sleep at night without nervously checking my email to see if there were any C&D letters, but in a close second I did it because it's the right thing to do and shows appreciation and gratitude to the content providers for their hard work. It allows me to confidently show what we're selling and discuss it online without pitchforks being raised.
Our products are very different from RedditMade, Tee-spring and similar companies, we encourage NSFW and offensive material (as well as things that make you smile), and we're building a self standing community around this with its own personality - so I don't find our services in combat with each other but rather RedditMade could be a useful tool for us too.
RedditMade (screen print, only a small area) vs Shirtwascash (direct to garment, full coverage)
But since I've entered into this market I've learned a cold hard truth: No one gives a shit about Intellectual Property.
RedditMade isn't the only one. All of our even moreso direct competitors sell products they want rather than the ones they can.
I understand why they do it. IP holders can be difficult to reach out to and work with. Also, a lot of the larger brands send you to their legal department which is never a fun discussion. They don't really want to help you and see no benefit in it. Most IPs are out of reach and/or have ridiculous costs associated to them. But that doesn't make it right.
I am a firm believer that I could have largely increased my sales by selling everything people submit / want and my profit margin would be much higher if I didn't include licensing deals in the mix, but having a "we'll see what happens" or "just remove after the C&D comes" attitude is unethical for your own personal benefit. If the content you acquire or create isn't enough to make something exciting and produce sales - then maybe you are in the wrong market. Reddit is large enough of a website that they don't need to sell copyright infringement products, but adding the necessary positions to verify each submission could be difficult - that said, I do it and I am one person that also runs all of the other functions of this company, so why can't they?
Intellectual Property As You Perceive It Doesn't Exist
I've withheld this discussion in the past since it goes against common thought and discussion trends, but I think I'll divulge the current state of IP in products.
Every successful entrepreneur in a similar field has told me to disregard IP licensing and remove products as claims arrive in my inbox.
The cold hard truth is that the internet, and global sales, is vast and companies have limited resources or care to protect themselves. In most cases, your product or company won't be large enough for someone else to go after. It's actually very rare to get anything more than a C&D letter (cease and desist). This is another result of IP being a function of the legal department. It took years for Disney to go after Deadmau5 for what they perceive as a copyright infringement - only after he was super rich did they care.
Posted pictures of products from smaller companies have a larger chance of the comment section being reprimanded for copyright infringement. IP white knights restate the common-sense argument and are usually correct, but they don't know the truth behind why companies don't care. It's because there is very little risk. Many multi-million dollar companies base their business around this - just as RedditMade now does. A page view is a page view and these types of designs lead to more sales. Plain and simple.
Will it change? Yes and no.
Companies have started to buyout startups that use computer robots to find their copyrighted content. The process is becoming more automated. But, these are still just C&D letters in most cases (unless you come in contact with a more predatory group like GettyImages). The sheer volume of user-submitted design using other's IP and court cases have increased so even legally it will continue to change.
That said, as long as there is more money to be made by selling copyrighted material rather than licensing it, the products themselves will never change nor the people conducting their business unethically.
You can reach me on the comment section or at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.