You Might Be Wearing Stolen Art

The best way to support digital artists is to call out stolen work

Florence Ion
Published in
7 min readDec 12, 2019


Illustration: Virginia Poltrack. Courtesy of artist.

InIn this age of copy-and-paste design, imitation often isn’t the sincerest form of flattery — it’s outright copyright infringement. Last week, the internet was abuzz with news of a revenge bot that called out artwork thieves, but the bots aren’t just looking for people tweeting about wanting art on a T-shirt. They’re everywhere.

Virginia Poltrack is a prolific illustrator based in the technology community. She spends her time working on specialized projects for clients like Google, but she’s also taken a few of her sketches and transformed them into purchasable T-shirts through partnerships with artist-friendly retailers like Cotton Bureau. Some of her more popular designs include a T-shirt with Android versions named after candy, Star Wars’ famous lightsabers and blasters, and another with a two-toned Nintendo Switch controller. One of Poltrack’s most recent designs is a well-manicured hand with a snake coiled around it. The phrase “assume all women are technical and capable of breathing fire” penned underneath. The shirt is available on Cotton Bureau, with 100% of the proceeds donated to the nonprofit Black Girls Code.

“That shirt design is personal.”

After more than a year on Cotton Bureau’s site, the shirt’s graphic showed up for sale at Moteefe, an online retailer that dubs itself a “social commerce platform” where folks can sell custom products that Moteefe will share through social media. A Twitter user who had purchased a shirt from Moteefe tweeted their excitement over a Poltrack original. Fans soon caught on that it was being offered at a different retailer, and began tweeting at her, asking when she’d switched merchants. “Someone had tagged, ‘Virginia made this!’” Poltrack recalled in an email. “Then further down the thread, someone else shared a link to the Moteefe shirt. That’s how I found out about the company.”