Spotlight: T-Shirt Wars?

In a sweep of SOPA inspired blackouts and file-sharing crackdowns last week, it seems we’ve officially entered the Web Wars of 2012. And while the major headlines dealt with legitimate issues of Internet freedom, or the villainous lair of Megaupload‘s Kim Dotcom, there were some slightly more lighthearted episodes of good old fashioned creative theft, and perhaps coincidentally, they all had to do with…t-shirts? Given the range of serious matters regarding copyright infringement swirling around right now, these particular instances offered at least some bizarre, wtf-moments of comedic relief. So in case you haven’t heard, here’s the crew of crew-necks:

[BoxTitle]Joy Division vs Disney[/BoxTitle]

Sitting at one end of the icon spectrum is a smiling Mickey Mouse, and far on the other end is Joy Division’s 1979 debut Unknown Pleasures. The imagineers over at Disney decided that those two cultural phenomenons could somehow cross into one awesome t-shirt. It sold out immediately, then was removed by Disney after a few days of press attention “to review the situation further”, and should now make for a nice collector’s item on Ebay. Will we ever truly know what inspired them to re-purpose the symbol of such a bleak (and tragically fated) post-punk band for their own family-friendly brand, and why they thought not to ask first? At least bassist Peter Hook appreciated the irony, telling LA Times, “If I had a pound for every time someone bootlegged Joy Division, I’d be as rich as Disney. But it’s interesting in a kitsch way. It’s this cross between something very adult and this well-known image of childhood. I’ve heard it’s sold out, so maybe it’ll become a kind of urban legend.”

[BoxTitle]Man Is The Bastard vs Akron/Family[/BoxTitle]

Now this case got a bit uglier. Indie folk band Akron/Family used the skull of 90s hardcore punk pioneers Man Is the Bastard on a t-shirt, video, and album promo, in what they later explained as an homage. Only one problem: they didn’t acquire permission, and Bastard founding member Eric Wood lived up to his “powerviolence” persona by going ALL CAPS in a scathing assault on the band’s facebook page which encouraged his fans to do the same. Comments piled on (it got really bad, MiTB fans are very loyal and also, nuts), and Akron/Family’s Miles Seaton issued a disheartened statement attempting to make amends but more so rationalizing than apologizing, even looking to find some positive nugget from it all: “to be honest, when I disengage a little from my own temper, I am inspired anew by the passionate and heated responses to this situation, so thanks for that!” The verdict is still out, the damage has been done and neither side looks that great at this point.

[BoxTitle]No Age vs Kings of Leon[/BoxTitle]

No Age didn’t invent the rainbow lettered band shirt but unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in this case, under commercially successful southern rock, potentially clouded by your own fame), it’s hard to say they didn’t completely brand it as their own merch table staple since 2007. The LA noise duo took to their blog recently on a post titled “wait, what?”, sharing the simple image of KOL’s version with the caption, “t shirt designs by the kings of originality…looking good.” The Followills are yet to comment, but the “scandal” has been picked up by Spin and Rollingstone, so we’ll see how this one ends (hopefully with No Age doing their best “Sex On Fire” eyes in some amusing music video parody battle).

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