Hey Peanuts Fans! Your fellow fans, including me, are worried about the rash of unlicensed Snoopy t-shirts and other printable products showing up on Facebook, Amazon, eBay and more sites. Learn what you need to be safe on the internet and how unlicensed products can impact your Peanuts collecting. Plus, I’ll give you alternatives to buying these t-shirts.
WHAT IS AN UNLICENSED PRODUCT?
Peanuts Worldwide owns the copyright to the Peanuts characters. Companies, like Hallmark, pay Peanuts Worldwide royalties to use the Peanuts characters on their products. These are licensed products. The artist creating the product will have access to a library of approved stock art of the Peanuts characters to use. After the product is designed, the product will go through an approval process with Peanuts Worldwide. The final product will have a copyright disclaimer on it, such as “©2016 Peanuts Worldwide LLC”. On t-shirts, it will often be on the tag and printed near the image on the shirt.
Unlicensed products have been created without the knowledge of Peanuts Worldwide. Sometimes these products are meant to be fan-produced art and products. Often times they are just rip-offs cashing in on the popularity of a character or franchise. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two.
FAN ART VS. UNLICENSED ART
The internet is a breeding ground for talented artists to share their fandom with the rest of the world. Luckily, many franchises recognize the creativity of their fans and allow them to sell their artwork to their fellow fans. Threadless.com is a great example. Peanuts Worldwide even sponsored a contest looking for submissions. Part of the contest was the participants had to draw their own characters and could not use stock art. Each piece was an original creation by an artist. Purchasing these designs supports the artist and promotes allowing more of this great artwork to be produced.
Unlicensed Art re-purposes licensed artwork without paying for the license. It can be easy to spot fakes when it looks terrible and definitely not drawn by Schulz. However, a lot of unlicensed product use what looks like licensed artwork. The internet and technology makes it easy to re-purposed content taken from the internet and printed on products. Using images from the internet are compressed and small, not made to be printed twelve inches tall in high resolution for a t-shirt. Most products are shown using mock-ups, not the real item that is being sold. You may not know a product is not legitimate until you receive it.
It’s so easy to create an online store today. Amazon, eBay and other sites that sell other’s products don’t have the manpower to approve every product that gets sold on their site. It’s buyer beware in the marketplace. Look for these signs when you’re buying online to keep yourself safe!
You see an ad for a cute Snoopy t-shirt in your Facebook feed. It takes you to the Facebook page of the company selling the t-shirt. Look at how the administrator interacts with their followers. Do they have a conversation? Or do they just repost a link to their online store?
For example, I saw a commenter question the legitimacy of their products and ask if they were licensed. The page administrator only replied with a link to their website. They didn’t try to defend their product or produce evidence. The page linked to did not have the information the concerned commenter needed either. The comment was later deleted from the page and the commenter blocked. Is that a company you want to buy from?
THE GENERIC ONLINE STORE
Let me walk you through one such generic store. After their ad comes up in your Facebook feed, you may try to buy that Snoopy Shirt at “disneyawesome.com.” What will you find? Click their About us link and learn “To edit the content on this page, go to the Pages section of your Shopify admin.” The site has a footer that says “This text is fully customizable You can add what ever you want over here.” Perhaps you should contact the site owners and let them know they didn’t fill in this information. But… there’s no contact information. No policy information. Nothing to represent who this company is and what they do.
The content of this site is also suspicious. Disney Awesome? Peanuts isn’t Disney. Family Guy, Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny and Maxine have nothing to do with Disney, yet were all present on this site. You won’t get such a blatant clue with all shady shops like this! Go to their homepage and check things out before buying. If there’s nothing there, it’s generic or it just doesn’t feel like a real online store, walk away. No Snoopy shirt is worth dealing with company that isn’t upfront about who and what it is.
These stores are called “Drop Shippers”. They load up their shop with products they may never actually touch. Using ads, they send people to their site from sites like Facebook and Instagram. Once you’re there, they may claim you get the item for free, just pay shipping. Or, they might tell you it’s a limited edition, you only have a little time left. There are many ploys to get you to buy their products. Once you do, a factory in China will ship it out directly to you. The seller never actually touches the product. There is no quality control. Will there be customer service if you’re not happy? Do you want to take that chance? Learn more about Drop Shippers by listening to this excellent podcast, Reply All, or reading their linked to articles.
If you have made a purchase from one of these sites and had a negative experience, you may have recourse. If the site is made using Shopify, you can report the site to them. They will then take steps to resolve the problem. You can contact them on their support page here: https://support.shopify.com/. To find out if a site is made using Shopify, right click and choose “View Page Source” from the menu. A pop-up window will appear with code in it. If you see anything saying Shopify, then it’s a Shopify page. It may also state it at the bottom of the page “Powered by Shopify”.
WEBSITES YOU TRUST
As I mentioned, Amazon and eBay have a problem with these same unlicensed products. Digital printing makes it easy to take any image and put it on iPhone cases, shower curtains, t-shirts, bags, watches, mugs, and all sorts of products. Photoshop makes it easy to create realistic looking product images by compositing two different items. Images taken from the internet for a mockup may not reproduce very well when printed in a larger format. The key to weeding out the unlicensed products is to look hard at what you’re buying. Be sure to look at our image gallery for examples of these faults at the end of this post.
The Designs The shirt you’re looking at might have a quality looking design. Check other items and see if they’re just as good. If other designs look off or are being over-used, pass on that shop.
Mash-ups of franchises are usually not found on licensed items. If you see a Deadpool X Snoopy or Star Wars X Peanuts design, you’re probably looking at fan art. If there’s no artist listed, then pass on that shirt! Not giving credit where credit is due is a sure sign of a possible stolen image.
Generic Images Does the listing look mocked up? Are there hundreds of other listings using the exact same images? This isn’t always an indicator of an unlicensed product, but it should lead you to dig a little deeper. Look at the other items the seller has available.
Generic Copy Is the headline easy to read, or is it filled with a bunch of keywords? Is the description helpful and well-written? Too much fluff or not enough concrete details can be a sign of trying to make a quick buck. Custom and Limited Edition used together may also signify a non-legitimate design being used.
Unrelated Products On Amazon, looking again at Shower Curtains, many of the rip-off products had multiple “colors” with other non-related designs. Licensed products wouldn’t be listed with other licensees or other designs generally. For instance, one Snoopy Shower Curtain on Amazon has another “color” that showed a non-Peanuts British-themed shower curtain that says, “Vector Set of London Symbols” within the design. Don’t know what that means? Vector is a type of artwork that is easily resized, meaning that particular design is badly ripped-off clip art.
Price Too good to be true? Ships from the other side of the world for free? These are big red flags. Sure, the shipping might be free, but it may take a month to arrive.
Quality Read the reviews! If the product you’re buying doesn’t have any, look at the other items the seller has. Do they show problems with the printing quality? Going back another Snoopy Shower Curtain, one reviewer says, “See what happens when you don’t read reviews? And the one who talk about print quality as excellent need an optometrist. It arrived in a timely manner which was nice but the overall print is if you took a 75 KB illustration and tried to blow it up into a larger picture. There was no indication of clarity in the finished product as there was in the shot for the shower curtain. In this case the features are way to muddled. It’s almost as if someone traced and colored over the original with thick markers. So, this will go up only for awhile, then will get put away. Then I’ll think about it next year. Everyone do their homework and see who this product is from, quality of merchandise, price and then make your decision. I would have rather paid at least 25-30% more if I were to receive a shower curtain of great printed quality. So beware and research. And please get those other reviewers the number of a good optometrist.”
The Real Deal
One of the appeals of these t-shirt sites is the availability of products in a variety of styles and colors. Cafepress.com and Zazzle.com can give you even more variety of shirt styles, plus their designs are licensed. Yes, it may cost a couple dollars more, but you’re getting a better product from a site with a reputation to maintain. If you don’t like the product you receive, Cafepress has a terrific customer service department. My mom purchased a shirt and didn’t like the fit. They let her keep it and refunded her money. Will you get great customer service from a fly-by-night website that has no contact information?
Amazon now has a print-on-demand department and is creating licensed Peanuts shirts. Not only are they do they have free shipping with Prime membership, they also come in a variety of colors and sizes for kids and adults.
Need to support your favorite national sports team? Be sure to visit Fanatics.com for a variety of Peanuts t-shirts and memorabilia.
Does it Matter?
Peanuts Worldwide does get plenty of our money. However, if their legitimate products aren’t being supported, they may stop making them or won’t expand their product lines into things you CAN’T get with cheap printing. Charles Schulz strived for quality in the products with the Peanuts characters on it. To continue his legacy, make sure you speak for the quality you deserve with your wallet.
Fan art is being used on a lot of these sites. Would you want your artwork used and profited on without your knowledge? Of course not! You’d want to know and you’d like others to know you made it. It’s not just big business losing money, it’s the little guys who are getting ripped-off, too.
One of the little guys getting ripped-off is our friends at Dark Hall Mansion. They pay to license characters and they pay artists to create works of art inspired by those characters. From that artwork, they create beautiful, high-quality prints that are just wonderful to behold. If Dark Hall Mansion artwork is reproduced by others, this is stealing from Dark Hall Mansion, the buyers and Peanuts fans. The stolen artwork is reproduced with inferior files, so the buyer loses out on a beautiful piece of artwork. Dark Hall Mansion loses revenue because their artwork is being stolen and used without their permission. Will they be able to continue creating if they can’t make a living? The answer is no. Dark Hall Mansion is getting out of the business of selling Peanuts artwork. Peanuts collector are losing out on future artwork, plus any DHM artwork they have may lose its value with too many fakes on the market.
On the flip side, it’s your wallet. You can spend your money any way you want. At best, your fellow collectors are worried about you throwing away your hard earned money on junk. At worst, your fellow collectors worry about you getting your credit card number stolen by a company not handling your personal data properly. Protect yourself! Protect Charles Schulz’s Legacy!
If you have an experience or a perspective you’d like to share, please email me, Caren, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gallery of Unlicensed Items
These images were taken from “pop-up” stores on Facebook. They advertise on Facebook to drive traffic to their sites. Some Peanuts graphics do look like the real thing on their shirts. These are the more obvious knock-off images. To do your own research, do a reverse image search on Google Images to find the true origin of the image. Click on the image to get more info on each.