Hot Topic Likes Your Art So Much… They're Selling It!

I’m glad I’m bad at everything so I never have to worry about anyone plagiarizing my work. Sadly, this is not the case for Nina Matsumoto. Whoever is in charge of “designing” Halloween merchandise for Hot Topic is apparently a big fan of Nina’s.

Above is a temporary tattoo that’s on sale at Hot Topic. Here’s some art by Ms. Matsumoto:

The tattoo was spotted by a guy who had the original art tattooed on his leg. Here’s what the artist had to say about the incident:

As I’ve said countless times before, I don’t consider reposting my artwork somewhere else to be art theft… When someone takes my art without permission and makes any sort of profit from it, that’s when something should be done.

Yikes. Sounds like a job for your friendly neighborhood lawyer.

Space Coyote [DeviantArt] (Thanks, Brandon!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. There’s no map, does that count?

  2. Davan says:

    I like the way they removed the signature and date before using it. Thats classy

  3. It is sad just how often this happens to artists.

  4. Moosehawk says:

    It’s a great drawing/tattoo, it’s a real shame that Hot Topic is trying to claim ownership to it. We all know Hot Topic wouldn’t sell anything that cool.

    I walked in to a Hot Topic last week and realized why I don’t have any clothes from there.

  5. How horrible for the artist. Not only to have her art ripped off and sold for a profit – but by Hot Topic of all places.

    (The art is pretty cool, IMO.)

  6. mike says:

    Quick! Someone contact the RIAA! They’ll get on it!

  7. Zenne says:

    I remember reading this on [] . Good job getting it on the Consumerist, it makes it a lot harder to ignore.

  8. I’m sure it’s a horrible feeling to find that something you made is being used by someone else to make money.

    I really hope the feeling she gets when she sues their pants off, claims all profits from the sales of HER work, and ends up better off offsets that first bad feeling ;)

    Sue their pants off Nina!

  9. LoriLynn says:

    In addition to being thieves, Hot Topic apparently hates apostrophes.

  10. muddgirl says:

    Wow, that’s utterly blatant! I wonder if some Hot Topic buyer saw the art in a tattoo artist’s portfolio.

  11. van_line says:

    Hot Topic is selling the temp tattoo or are they the company producing the temp tattoo??

    Not defending HT but if they are only selling the product then the issue is with the producer of the temp tattoo, right?

    • BumpinUgglas says:

      @van_line: You’re technically right but Hot Topic is still profiting (albeit not much, probably) from the sale of an illegally reproduced work, so the sword swings both ways.

  12. Monster Rain says:

    This is exactly the kind of thing that copyright laws exist to protect; to encourage people to create original works rather than re-branding the works of others.

    Or at least that’s the way that it’s supposed to work (IMHO)…

  13. incognit000 says:

    This stuff happens /constantly/. There’s just so many people in so many companies who feel that work posted on the internet is either public domain (it isn’t) or that the people who make it could never stand up to their fancy new-york lawyers. I browse a number of art sites, and almost every damn month one of them howls when they see their artwork being sold by megacorporations.

    Many have sued, but I have yet to hear of any of them winning.

    Also: the skull-and-cross-swords on the lower right is lifted from the Lego Pirates flag. I grew up with Lego Pirates and there’s a huge Lego Pirates ship in my parent’s basement right now. I would never not notice it.

    • @incognit000: There’s just so many people in so many companies who feel that work posted on the internet is either public domain

      I’ve been the victim of this as well – the person who lifted some of my photographs from the web didn’t sell them for profit, but also insisted (until I had my attorney send him a very strongly worded letter) that since I:

      -Put my work on the web
      -Didn’t register with the copyright office
      -Didn’t have a “publisher”
      -Didn’t suffer real financial loss

      that his use of my work without license or compensation to promote his own product was OK. Of course, none of these reasons for stealing my intellectual property (work I created with my own money and time) would hold up in any court of law.

      Of course, the guy who stole and displayed my work to promote his product was also someone who insisted that downloading music from Napster (this was 2001, before they were shut down) was OK, since the record companies hadn’t done anything about it.

      As a reminder, there is no requirement to do anything to be granted copyright. You don’t even have to claim it. Under U.S. law, copyright is granted to the creator of the work upon creation. Filing your work with the U.S. copyright office (there is a small fee for each filing) makes it easier to sue and claim your $10k/per instance damages. Having an attorney in the family helps, too.

    • Rocktober says:

      @incognit000: The Lego pirate flag is a skull with crossed bones, not swords (at least the original line).

      The skull with crossed swords is the flag of the pirate Jack Rackham.

    • Orv says:

      @incognit000: I blame all the Silicon Valley activist types in the ’90s who kept shouting “information wants to be free!” and insisting intellectual property had no monetary value. (All the while collecting fat paychecks from software companies were in the business of selling intellectual property, of course.)

    • @incognit000: Anybody know if putting a notice on your pages that your work is Creative Commons licensed is effective for scaring off thieves?

  14. itmustbeken says:

    Many many moons ago when I was a freelance designer, I landed a gig for a large retail company based in San Francisco. The ‘art’ director handed me a copy of an illustration that had come in from another designer looking for work. He liked the illustration, photocopied it from her portfolio and now wanted to use it without paying her.

    When I objected, his reply was “Yeah, well it works for the design we want and (giggle) she’s not going to sue __large company___, right?” At break time I left and took the photocopy with me. I kept his enraged/panic ‘you’d better bring that back!!’ voice mail for over a year. It still makes me smile.

  15. Petra says:

    *sigh* Hot Topic does this more than I’d like to admit…they also have a bad habit of stealing designs from Threadless.

  16. Jabberkaty says:

    Why does the nice lady pirate have a belt on her leg?

  17. mcjake says:

    I dont know how this is a surprise. Hot Topic has been selling unlicensed band t-shirts and posters for years.

  18. savvy999 says:

    IP noob question– is that artwork actually copyrighted?

    IANAL, but just because I simply create something, does that mean it’s automatically ‘mine’ (in a legal sense)? Doesn’t there have to be some sort of proactive, I’m-filing-this-as-a-copyrighted-work thing that has to happen before anyone’s work enjoys the protection of IP law?

    I’m on the side of the artist here, but just asking a valid question. There may be nothing she can do about it. Can’t click on the links, blocked here at work for me.

    • BumpinUgglas says:

      @savvy999: Good god yes, if you create something it is automatically yours, in every sense of the word.

      • Antediluvian says:

        @BumpinUgglas: In the USA, copyright exists as soon as the item is “created” (my paraphrasing) (edit: oh, no, it’s the actual word used; I guess I _was_ paying attention). No filing, no registering, no nothing.

        When is my work protected?
        Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

        and from

        – Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
        – Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
        – If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
        – If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
        – Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at Click on “Intellectual Property Rights.”

    • msthe8r says:

      The Copyright Act of 1976 declared that all “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” fall under copyright. As of 1976, artists did not have to register their work to be protected by copyright laws.

      • chrisjames says:

        @msthe8r: Nothing original needs registration to be protected under copyright laws, but for whom it’s being protected depends on the circumstances of its creation. For instance, photography or art created within a marketing firm is credited to the artist, but could be owned by and protected for the company.

        • msthe8r says:

          Yes, but such rights are custonmarily specified in the contract. In the absence of such specification, the copyright reverts to the artist.
          I assume the artist in question knows whether she owns the work or not.

      • @msthe8r: Is skin a tangible media? If it was created for a tattoo, does that count as a commissioned work? Could the original artist sue to get the artwork back if it is a tattoo? Does making it a tattoo make it public domain? If the person who has the tattoo gets his picture taken, do they need to get a release from the original artist? I think tattoo art might be a horse of another color.

        • Farquar says:

          @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>:

          ANY tangible medium of expression. That includes skin.

          Just because something is on display (ie, on your skin permanently) does not change the analysis. A work of art is on display in a home or gallery.

          Taking a photo of a work of art is not infringement. Selling or displaying that photo might be.

          The fact that it’s a tattoo changes nothing.

        • msthe8r says:

          @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>:
          I don’t know whether a tattoo artist would sue for the wearer of a tattoo copyright infringement if he/she took a photo. It probably falls under “fair use.”
          However, she would have certainly designed it on paper first (geezum crow, at least I hope so) which IS a tangible medium.

        • silver-bolt says:

          @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: Not commissioned work (Seems the guy who had it tattooed bought/received the original after he got inked, nothing saying he paid for it to be designed. So the guy has his blessing in some manner). Only time and/or the written consent of the copyright holder can make it public domain. No release is needed if the picture of the guy with the tattoo is incidental, and not the focus of the image (The tattoo would have to be prominent and intentionally part of the picture.)

          Tattoo art should not be different then any other commissioned work (if purchased like that). Only difference is who owns the copyright.

          • Geekybiker says:

            @silver-bolt: @msthe8r: FWIW Tangible medium means it’s not just an idea in your head. Digital photographs for example are still tangible even though they are printed, or have physical negatives.

    • floraposte says:

      @savvy999: The putting it in a fixed medium is enough to create copyright (at one point, my university was advising professors to tape their lectures, thus putting them in a fixed medium, in order to insure their copyright if notes from the lecture were sold to one of the businesses that does that). There are, however, things one can do to strengthen the claim. Here’s a quick overview: []

    • cknight says:

      @savvy999: According to the Berne convention copyright agreements, on which the US has signed onto, YES your work is copyrighted the moment you create it. Only the copyright holder can release that, or commit it to public domain. I highly recommend reading Brad Templeton’s Copyright Myths page: []

  19. BumpinUgglas says:

    Hell, at least she didn’t get ripped off by friggin’ Hallmark like me. There’s my street design cred.

    • Antediluvian says:

      @BumpinUgglas: You can’t leave us hanging like that — what happened?

      • BumpinUgglas says:

        @Antediluvian: Ah, sorry – I designed a robot logo for a record label called Zobot, and Hallmark used it on some wrapping paper. At least they had the decency to have one of their designers re-draw it as opposed to just ripping it off wholesale, and since I was commissioned for it so it wasn’t really mine to argue the copyright, and the record label was dead so they certainly weren’t going to argue, and honestly I was 22 and flattered by the plagiarism. I still wrap presents in that paper.

  20. azzy says:

    @savvy999: if you create something, you have a copyright on it. The signature and date on the drawing are proof enough of when it was created.

    More Info: []

  21. Suttin says:

    At least the op knows shes good now. Time for her to get the money she rightfully deserves.

  22. brandyk says:

    Actually, it sounds like a job for your friendly, probably not-neighborhood, copyright lawyer. Please don’t anyone make the mistake that your average joe attorney knows anything about copyright law.

  23. 3drage says:

    Ironic that the picture they pirated was a pirate.

  24. snoop-blog says:

    Hmmm, I know more about music copyrights than other products. I use to produce underground hip-hop, and I wasn’t trying to protect it from major companies as much as my local competitors. There were quite a few underground producers for being as small of a city as I’m in. It was one kat that was at another producers house listening to some beats he had made, next thing you know, tha kat’s new shit sounded just like his buddys. It’s more about protecting your style so the next guy doesn’t come out soundin just like you.

  25. fjordtjie says:

    at first glance, it’s the same. at second glance though, still the exact same thing. that’s blatant plagarism!

  26. YaronAutomedon says:

    This is one of the first things I noticed, too. As a grammar/punctuation “nazi,” it severely irks me when someone publishes mistakes like this. Not only do they steal someone else’s creation, they’re also lazy in their execution of it.

  27. Twitch says:

    Removal of an element does not make it a derivative work.

  28. mzs says:

    I have to wonder if Hironobu Takeshita (hand over my heart, that is his name) at Capcom saw this before producing Zack & Wiki.

    White Rose

  29. crackers says:

    Most of the info above about current copyright laws seems fairly accurate, from my understanding. However, the Orphan Works Bill (already passed in the Senate, but not yet in the House) will radically modify existing copyright laws, leaving artists open to infringement with little recourse to regain control of their intellectual property. This also has ramifications for all of us that post images on MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, etc; under the new bill, users must only perform an undefined “reasonably dilligent” search for the author before using the image in any manner they choose, including any and all commercial use.

    The purpose of the bill is to allow access to work whose owners are unknown or cannot be found. However, the bill is so loosely worded that it leaves immense loopholes that are ripe for exploitation.

    If you’d like to read more details, visit or

  30. psykomyko says:

    More talk about the Orphan Works bill at:

  31. Rctdaemon says:

    Anyone remember Todd Goldman?

    This is bigger than that was, though.

  32. darkryd says:

    Meh – its a rather unoriginal manga-style drawing in my opinion.

    Regardless, Hot Topic should burn for plagiarizing!

  33. XeniaBaucis says:

    Hi, this is the artist of the design. Thank you for your support on my case, but I feel like the comment on my journal is being taken the wrong way.

    When I say “something should be done about it,” what I mean is I should alert them and ask them kindly to discontinue the product, which is what I’m trying to do.

    I phrased it that way because I’m constantly alerted of “art theft” that isn’t art theft — people simply reposting my work (with my name still on it) somewhere else, with no profits made. The people who contact me about such cases are usually outraged, but I do nothing about it because I don’t see it as art theft. But this one is a REAL case of art theft, which is why I say “something should be done.”

    With that said, so far I’ve had no luck in getting a reply from them.


    • silver-bolt says:

      @XeniaBaucis: Send a registered return receipt cease and desist letter to their HQ and lawyers. Their lawyers will get shit done.

    • crackers says:

      @XeniaBaucis: I agree with silver-bolt; a registered cease and desist letter will get their attention, and hopefully end this quickly and simply, with no lawsuit. It’s sort of a more formal version of asking nicely.

      For legal advice, you might want to check out Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. It’s a great organization that helps artists get free or low-cost legal aid. They’re just the people to contact about a situation like this.


      Best of luck to you!

  34. PercyChuggs Was Found At JFK Airport says:

    I don’t see anything illegal, the pirate in the Hot Topic version is clearly facing the other way, which means it’s completely different and original.

  35. I have some insight into the workings of Hot Topic HQ (you have to call it HQ and not ‘corporate’ or they spank you). Basically, their buyers are made of fail this year. I doubt HT as a company knew that the work was stolen, more likely someone else stole the design and turned around and sold it to HT.

    This still does not make up for the fact that HT bought the entire Perez Hilton line earlier this year.

  36. MaureenBizzert says:

    She knows she’s good–she’s a professional artist who’s drawn several official Simpsons comics and has an original comic series coming out through Del Rey in November. They’re not ripping off some amateur–she’s a pro.

  37. animeredith says:

    Yeah, Hot Topic is notorious for hiring shady designers who pull stuff like this. Look up the Threadless “Lil’ Soap” theft and Todd Goldman for more reading.

    Good luck getting something done about this, HT really just seems to not care at all.

  38. SujalaDawgy says:

    It is a copyright issue – original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium vs. source identifier, i.e., who makes a particular product or offers a particular service (trademark/service mark)

  39. econobiker says:

    I once worked for a plaster furniture manufacturer and we took a cherubs with grapes, cast bronze, sort of end-table base, with actual artists signature and copyright symbol cast in, and duped it for production. The furniture company owner had the in-house sculptor fill in the name and copyright symbol, put better grapes and leaves over the existing ones, and give the cherubs bigger togas to literally cover up their boy parts. I got the item after all this was done and then had to make a mold from it. I only saw the signature and symbol when I pulled the finished mold from the piece and it pulled out the clay which had covered these parts. The owner didn’t care when I mentioned potential law suit as this was the type of guy who didn’t even have hot water in the factory…

    I left about two months later for a real job. (This was the only job where I once got drunk at lunch time with the other guys since the environment was so bad.)

  40. NormaHalomitosis says:

    This brings to mind the big controversy of the Orphan Works legislation that’s in Congress right now. It’s supposed to “allow good-faith users of copyrighted content to move forward in cases where they wish to license a use but cannot locate the copyright owner after a diligent search” ( I understand the pros of the legislation in matters of older works, but as an artist, it galls me something awful. I see no way of protecting myself or my work, no way to prevent companies from taking my art if they say they looked hard to find its owner. How can you define “good-faith” and “diligent search”? I wonder if that’s the mentality Hot Topic was working under – maybe they found the art already “doctored” by someone else, and considered it fair game, or they did a “diligent search” for “Coyote” and declared that they couldn’t find her.

    • @NormaHalomitosis: Agreed; especially since the legislation makes it the CREATOR’S responsibility to digitize (at his/her own expense) and submit their work to a (commercially-owned) database, in order to protect copyright. WTF is that, besides completely in violation of the central idea of copyright, that all creators have it, with or without certification? I sincerely hope that, if that passes, the Supreme Court smacks it down as a violation of the core premise of copyright law.

  41. NiGHTSSTUDiO says:

    Reminds me of Capcom using IGN’s box art of Okami.

    What if the artist put a watermark on his/her drawing, would they still have had the balls to do that?

  42. Nelore says:

    T3n Th1rty One–the name of the brand of fake tattoos, is owned by Hot Topic, so, in essence, Hot Topic is still stealing.

  43. Aniphx says:

    This is one of the reasons I am glad my artwork isn’t popular. I would really be mad if someone stole it and did this to it. It’d be like taking my child.