An independent Australian sports merchandise maker has been forced to remove a line of T-shirts and badges featuring Tayla Harris’s athletic kick, after the AFL issued it with a cease and desist notice.
League Tees, owned by Melbourne-based graphic designer Anthony Costa, received the notice on Tuesday morning, a week after he pulled an all-nighter to make the design publicly available on its online store.
Costa argues the design is “substantially different” to the image taken by AFL Photos’ Michael Willson, which sparked conversation around online trolling after a flood of misogynistic comments appeared on 7AFL’s Facebook page.
“[The legal notice] was a bit startling. It’s several pages of demands and some threats,” Costa told The New Daily.
“The idea was actually crowdsourced by women’s footy fans on social media when everything was blowing up.
“It was something organic and people wanted the NBA-style design, and the sales response was really positive.
I don’t know [why] it took so long [for the legal request]. Based on the advice that I got, I still don’t know why I’ve received these demands and accusations, because they don’t seem to be valid.
Profits from the sale of the shirts and associated badges were donated to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation’s indigenous programs, which hit $1002.75 before the AFL’s request.
In the letter addressed to League Tees, the AFL’s legal counsel Lauren Cranstoun claimed Costa’s design infringed its copyright and demanded he stop using any AFL Intellectual Property in the future.
“League Tees’ silhouette of Tayla Harris [is] a substantial reproduction of a photograph in which the AFL owns copyright,” Cranstoun wrote.
The organisation says its intellectual property includes the AFL logo, club names, club mascots, club colour combinations, club playing guernseys and photographs taken by the AFL media team.
Costa says his website features disclaimers on every item page that states the works are produced by independent designers that have no affiliation with the AFL or associated bodies.
In a letter to the brands’ followers, he outlined he would not be contesting the AFL’s claims despite disagreeing with their premise, due to the financial burden of defending the matter in court.
He says the AFL did not provide examples where the design infringes Australian copyright law.
Costa also pointed to the AFL’s distribution of badges at the weekend’s AFLW semi-final between Carlton and Fremantle, which bore ‘a likeness to art shared by social media users.’
The AFL’s general manager of inclusion and social policy Tanya Hosch told Melbourne radio station 3AW Harris’ club was in talks with their star player to produce its own line of merchandise.
“We just want Tayla to have the opportunity to pursue that in negotiation with her club and, as I understand it, her intention is to make sure the money raised goes to Our Watch,” Hosch said.
“Tayla has the right to make a decision about how that image of herself is managed and we want to support her in that opportunity.”
An AFL spokesperson confirmed to The New Daily that Harris began work with the organisation to produce a line of T-shirts since last Tuesday with funds raised going towards Our Watch, which is overseen by Carlton board member Patty Kinnersly.
The AFL deals with roughly 10 copyright infringement cases every day, but the spokesperson said companies can apply for a licence to produce merchandise in line with the AFL’s brand.
Fans expressed outrage on social media following the decision to forbid the sale of the independently-made design.
Shocked and upset at this from the @AFL – would love to know how this fan art (generated by AFLW community) breaches IP of a photographic image? I'm no lawyer but given proceeds went to @theALNF I have no idea why this is something to bother pursuing. Go @LeagueTees ! #AFLW https://t.co/eV4zZ07bv8
— Kate O'Halloran (@Kate_ohalloran) March 26, 2019
going to women’s footy games all you see are fans attending with homemade t-shirt’s, badges, signs, etc which is beautiful to witness but it should be pretty clear to the afl that if you make the merchandise people will buy it
— andie (@anndeejam) March 26, 2019
But despite the controversy, Costa hopes his story will encourage the AFL to listen to fans’ requests for tailor-made merchandise of their favourite women’s athletes.
“If the proceeds are being donated to charity, and shows the AFL there is demand for women’s football merchandise that’s more customised and in tune with the culture of women’s footy fans, that can be a great thing,” he said.