My Work is Worth Stealing

Apparently. Yesterday, I discovered one of my T-shirt designs for sale in someone else’s store. The Keep Calm-o-Matic is a website that allows users to generate parodies of the “keep calm and carry on” poster, share the designs, and order merchandise of the design through Zazzle. Yesterday, I discovered that a user had uploaded a design featuring the text “Wes Smylt ond Feoht Forð” two months after I started selling my shirt with the same text. I contacted Keep Calm-o-Matic and within a few hours, they had taken down the design and sent me some very polite apologies (Let me stress that the design was uploaded by a site user, not by the owners of the Keep Calm-o-Matic). Since I don’t exactly have a copyright on the Old English language, I had expected to receive an automated reply saying “we’ll look into it” that would never be resolved, so I was grateful that Keep Calm-o-Matic took care of the situation so quickly.

I’m still trying to figure out why this happened. I don’t think that the user who submitted the design would have been making any money from it. Why steal the design when it’s already available? Is it because

  • the user thought that the OE translation deserved to be noticed in the gallery?
  • I only offer this design on T-shirts?
  • I only offer this design on colored shirts, but white shirts are cheaper?
  • the user preferred the default crown design to the Sutton Hoo helmet?
  • Keep Calm-o-Matic is based in England while my store is based in the US, and shipping fees are a big factor?
  • the user hates Cafepress?

I have multiple announcements saying that “if you want this design on a product that I haven’t made available, let me know and I’ll make it for you,” and this can be done anonymously, so hopefully, users will take advantage if they want more products. I wish I could say that this is about the principle of the thing and not the money, but it’s about the money too. I started a store to help pay for a PhD program.

If the design had said “æþeling” or “Ic sprece Ealde Englisc,” I wouldn’t have cared. After all, those are phrases commonly heard among people learning Old English. However, the same doesn’t apply to “Wes Smylt ond Feoht Forð.” I had to do the work finding an appropriate cultural approximation and translating the phrase. Until I put the shirt up, that phrase brought up no results in Google, so I think it’s safe to say that it originated on Made of Ƿ. Since the situation has been resolved, I am a little bit thrilled that someone found my work worth stealing, but I hope I won’t have to deal with this again.

To Keep Calm-o-Matic: thank you for resolving the situation so quickly (everybody, send your business to them for all of your non-OE “keep calm” needs!). To the user who put up my design: bysmor on þē!

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