Don’t be like me. A Merch By Amazon account is worth a lot. For some MerchPilot users, it’s worth six figures each year. Pushing boundaries on trademark and copyright is putting your account at risk. The most concise way I can state how to determine if your design is at risk goes like this:
If a customer is buying your shirt for reasons prior to you putting ink to fabric, then you are more than likely in non-compliance with trademark or copyright law.A wise blogger on the internet
Sometimes I’m just an idiot as we’ve already established, but at the same time I’ve always liked to test the rules, it’s part of my makeup, as stupid as that sounds. I’ve changed how I think thanks to Merch By Amazon, but I once deliberately uploaded an infringing shirt, got sales, then had it taken down.
Tiering up With Limited Slots at Merch By Amazon
When you’ve only got a few slots to fill at Merch By Amazon, and you’ve got a taste of those royalties, looking at methods of promotion to gain traction and sales is a valid strategy. Sitting back and waiting for Amazon users to search and find your products isn’t always going to work.
This story began about a year ago, 1 month into my Merch By Amazon journey and I was cruising through the early tiers. I hadn’t received any violations on my account as all uploads were completely from my own brain at this point.
One night in Tier 100, I had a lucid dream about creating a Star Trek shirt with a reference so deep in the Star Trek lore, that no automated or manual review would catch it. The shirt would be enticing to true fans and I was sure I could get it trending on the Star Trek subreddit on reddit.
The idea was a knock on a common cheeky shirt ‘But First, Ketracel White.’ In Star Trek Deep Space Nice, Ketracel White was a drug used by the Dominion to keep the Jem’Hadar loyal and subservient. To me, it was brilliant, so I went about making it and uploading it, avoiding any and all reference to anything Star Trek. It was approved just as I thought it would be.
Using Reddit to Promote Merch By Amazon Products
A fantastic way to get out of lower tiers is through promotion, paid or free. Reddit is a tough nut to crack but it’s subreddit structure lets you target quite well. I went about coming up with a reddit post that couldn’t be detected as tshirt spammy, as reddit typically will have nothing to do with people obviously trying to profit off the community. As a long time redditor, I understand this, but also, money.
I wanted an interesting and quirky real picture in some way related to Star Trek where the tshirt would just be worn in the background. I could craft a story around this photo and likely gain traction, and when the inevitable ‘Cool shirt! Link?’ comment would arise, I’d upvote and reply with the link to amazon.
I bought my wife these Star Trek decorative plates as a joke one year, she’s also a huge Trekkie, and snuck them up at our cottage, replacing some that we hadn’t bothered to take down from the previous owners. I thought I could take a picture of them for my reddit post with some funny story and have my son just standing around in the background wearing my Ketracel White Tshirt.
However, as a Canadian, I couldn’t get a sample of my Merch by Amazon tshirt shipped to me, so I had to get creative. Enter Photoshop displacement maps. For those who don’t know, most apparel mockup Photoshop files that you might download, include a displacement map to make your image look like it’s actually on the clothes. I took a picture of my son wearing just a black tshirt, and used a displacement map and some blending to make it look natural. The result:
I then crafted a story about replacing my mother-in-laws decorative plates with these star trek ones and it’s been a year and she hadn’t noticed. I posted it, and the upvotes started.
Then I Got Some Sales
It was working. My post floated around the front page of the Star Trek subreddit for a couple days resulting in 29 sales – you can see the stats from the shirt’s product dashboard below.
Then I Got a Merch By Amazon Compliance Violation Email
I also have a suspicion that this reddit post may have caught the attention of those who might take issue with the unlicensed use of content from their TV show — studio people are known to frequent that subreddit. Not long after, out of the blue I received the dreaded Content Policy – 1.1 Copyright email suggesting that I provide documentation demonstrating that you have the right to use content related to Star Trek. Ugh. I deserved that.
Learn from this. I’m lucky to still have an account, but imagine if I’d scaled this design to other product variants before getting busted? Getting dozens of copyright violations could have resulted in account termination.
Also published on Medium.