Elon Musk is not only one of the smartest and richest people on the planet, he’s also a passionate meme connoisseur.
A few months ago we covered a Musk-approved meme which suggested that piracy may start to appeal again as the legal streaming landscape gets more crowded. And that was just one of many he shared.
Since Musk has quite a large following, these memes circulate all over Twitter and far beyond. This has inspired some ‘entrepreneurs’ to use them in business, by setting up dropship services that print Musk’s memes on T-shirts and other goods, for example.
Musk Meme Takedowns
Since meme shirts are now being sold in various online stores, there seems to be a demand for this type of product. These nerdy fashion items have largely gone unnoticed by the general public, but Google was recently informed about this viral activity through a series of takedown requests.
The DMCA notices were sent by none other than Elon Musk or, much more likely, someone claiming to be the tech billionaire. They all follow the same format, asking Google to remove links to copyright-infringing t-shirts from search results.
“The following websites have stolen my copyright and they have no right to sell them, please remove the following links from search results,” ‘Musk’ writes in one of the requests, citing one of his ‘own’ tweets.
The image shared in the tweet is a ‘bots’ meme, referring to Musk’s attempt to reduce bot activity on Twitter. And indeed, most of the listed URLs that were reported to Google sell T-shirts emblazoned with this meme.
While there’s no question that Musk shared the meme, the copyright claim is trivial. Even if Musk created this meme himself, he doesn’t own the rights to the base photo, which is Grant Gustin on the set of The Flash. This photo has been used as meme inspiration for years.
The same is true for other memes highlighted in ‘Musk’ takedown notices, including the Lego Doctor, Mediocrates and They Brainwashed You memes. Again, the takedown requests target several stores that sell clothing with a print of this meme, with ‘Musk’ claiming ownership of the memes themselves.
Aside from memes, ‘Musk’ also targets a design that hits closer to home. One notice highlights an exclusive design for the official Tesla AI Day t-shirt. This request seems more plausible, but the broader context puts the validity of these requests in question.
Musk Be Fake
Aside from the questionable copyright claims, we seriously doubt that these DMCA notices were sent or authorized by Musk. It’s more likely that someone else is pretending to be the tech billionaire, to further their own cause.
For example, an imposter may be a player in the highly competitive Musk-meme t-shirt-selling business. By removing competitors from Google’s search results, this person can improve visibility and increase their own profits. That would be a typical example of DMCA abuse.
While DMCA abuse is against the law, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time that an imposter has exploited copyright law to gain an unfair advantage. We have seen similar efforts in the past, often with a competitive edge.
The suggestion that there are imposters at work is strengthened by other notices we spotted, in which “The Beatles” and “Barstool Sports” also flag ‘Musk’ (and other) shirts. In turn, some Musk takedowns report entirely unrelated designs.
These and other notices are among thousands of t-shirt takedowns in recent weeks, covering a variety of designs. Perhaps this is all related to a brawl between competing apparel outlets? For now, the good news is that Google has rejected the vast majority of these claims.
To completely rule out that these notices were sent by the real Elon Musk, we reached out to Twitter, hoping that his company could offer some clarity. At the time of publication, we have yet to receive a response.
In any case, we caution others from drawing the wrong conclusions. After all, the tech billionaire isn’t a big fan of the DMCA, to say the least. Just a few months ago he characterized the copyright law as being an “overzealous plague on humanity.”
That was the real Elon Musk, for sure. Perhaps someone should put that on a t-shirt?