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May 30, 2011

‘Hipster Hitler’ sends RedBubble’s law firm fleeing

Leading law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler has refused to work again with former client RedBubble over the listing of "Hipster Hitler" merchandise on the art retail website, writes StartupSmart editor Oliver Milman.

Leading law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler has refused to work again with former client RedBubble over the listing of “Hipster Hitler” merchandise on the art retail website, citing its “deep roots in the Jewish community”.

In a statement, ABL’s senior partner Mark Leibler, who is also national chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, says that a post on the Firm Spy website implies that the law firm “condones the distribution of pro-Hitler merchandise” by being associated with RedBubble.

“Arnold Bloch Leibler has had a long and unswerving commitment to fighting discrimination and protecting human rights, and any implication that the firm is supportive of attempts to ‘reinvigorate Nazi ideas’ is false and unacceptable to the firm,” he says. “Furthermore, the firm has deep roots in the Jewish community and is extremely sensitive to the consequences of the Holocaust.

“Arnold Bloch Leibler does not currently act for RedBubble and will not act on behalf of RedBubble in the future; however the firm has previously provided corporate advice to RedBubble.”

Leibler called for the Firm Spy post, and accompanying reader comments on the matter, to be removed. At the time of publication, however, the post remains published.

ABL has distanced itself from RedBubble in protest to the website’s decision to continue acting as a sales portal for several T-shirts featuring artwork from an online comic called Hipster Hitler.

ABL says that it was only made aware of the merchandise on Monday, although Hipster Hitler has been listed on RedBubble since September 2010. The New York-based comic says it satirises “hipster culture and the exploits of the Third Reich” through its artwork.

T-shirts sold via RedBubble, which acts as a shop window for the work of more than 150,000 artists, feature slogans such as “Stalingrad Class of 1943”, “I Love Juice” and “Eastside Westside Genocide”. Other T-shirts feature drawings of Adolf Hitler as a scarf-wearing, cardigan-wearing Brooklyn hipster.

Martin Hosking, CEO and co-founder of RedBubble, told StartupSmart that the issue had caused “some disturbance” among the site’s user base over the past six months, but defended the decision not to withdraw the artwork.

“Art has always been controversial, whether it’s Lichtenstein or nude photos,” he says. “We have a commitment to art and creative expression, within guidelines.

“This is a genuine parody and not anti-Semitic. We looked at this work six months ago with Jewish groups and we concluded it was a parody. I don’t know where you end up when you start taking down art because someone doesn’t like it.”

Hosking, who was previously a diplomat in Egypt and is a former secretary of the Australian Arabic Council, adds: “I do not support Nazi material. I have fought for human rights for the past 20 years and I find any suggestions to the contrary personally offensive.”

Hosking says that “tens” of RedBubble users have deleted their accounts in protest at the featuring of Hipster Hitler. But he denies allegations made by commenters on RedBubble that users who voiced dissent have been censored or blocked from the site, or that the Hipster Hitler artwork has the support of far-right groups such as Stormfront.

Hosking says that RedBubble is currently in “productive and friendly discussions with a range of Australian-based Jewish organisations, including the ADC (the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission)”.

“Together we are working to craft a solution which balances the right to free expression against the legitimate restrictions on this,” he says. “These discussions are ongoing and are drawing to a fruitful conclusion.”

Hosking adds that he “anticipates a change” to RedBubble’s guidelines following the spat, although he refuses to be drawn on whether Hipster Hitler merchandise will be withdrawn from the site.

Currently, RedBubble’s guidelines on “Inciting Violence, Hatred or Racism” state: “Any work or behaviour where the intent of the artist is to incite hatred, violence or racism is not permitted. Consequence: Account suspension and six-month probation.”

ABL referred to its statement published on Firm Spy when contacted by StartupSmart. Firm Spy hadn’t responded to an emailed request for comment at the time of publication.

*This article first appeared at StartupSmart

Disclaimer: Crikey stocks Red Bubble manufactured t-shirts at the Crikey Shop.

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18 comments

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18 thoughts on “‘Hipster Hitler’ sends RedBubble’s law firm fleeing

  1. Crikey Shopper

    Am I the only one who has noticed that Crikey and StartUpSmart where this article was first published are both owned by Private Media Pty Ltd which is in business with Red Bubble via the ‘Crikey Shop’?!

    http://crikeyshop.redbubble.com/

    http://crikeyshop.crikey.com.au/pages/about-us

    Not declaring this sort of thing makes me wonder whether this report is fairy floss spun to help Red Bubble minimize a scandal. For example the journalist has not even mentioned the fact that Red Bubble is selling “Back to the Fuhrer” t-shirts (I mean, wow!!) nor reported what any of the people complaining on Red Bubble are saying. It smells of fish to me.

  2. Heidi

    So the t-shirts are “pro-Hitler” and mock genocide a bit. Oh, really? Dear me. What about all the pro-George W. Bush and his illegal war in Iraq t-shirts? RedBubble has just exposed the double standards that apply. [Moderator: this comment has been slightly edited to fit in with the Crikey code of conduct.]

  3. The Man Behind the Bar

    Note to eds: “Redbubble has balls” should have been the headline of this story.

    Support for Hitler and Nazism on t-shirts is no more beyond the pale than what is already seen on many popular heavy metal t-shirts praising death and gore.

  4. Matt Hardin

    Having had a look at some of the comics – the jokes are weak but I don’t think they are trying to portray Hitler in a positive light. It is satire – just not very funny. On a Tshirt out of the context of the cartoon they do appear to be repackaging and hence become offensive.

    To me it seems simple. Any deliberate attempt to wipe out a group of people is not funny and the people who perpetrate it are not edgy or cool. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, those responisible for the Aremnian genocide, the “ethnic cleansers” of the Balkans, Idi Amin, those responsible for the Rwandan genocides and so on (add your own names – I am sad so many could roll of the tips of my fingers) should not be looked on as cool. They should not be repackaged. The Tshirts definitely fall into this category.

    The difference in The Producers is that the play “Springtime for Hitler” was meant to be awful was meant to have no redeeming features and was meant to fail. The fact that it was so bad elevated it to the plane of satire and hence made it successful. If you recall the author of the play was not happy with the result.

  5. Art Girl

    However you beat around the bush about it, some of the tees pro-Hitler and some mock the victims of the Holocaust. You cannot get much more pro-Hitler than “Back to the Fuhrer” and “Death Camp for Cutie” or “Three Reichs and you are Out” and some of the others do poke fun at the victims of the Holocaust.

    The more interesting issue is why there is supposed to be something wrong with this 66 years after Hitler’s death. It’s OK to many people to be pro-Mao Tse Tung or pro-Stalin, both of whom killed as many or more than Hitler and lived longer. It’s OK to mock victims of other terrible tragedies.

    What is the principle that puts Redbubble on the defensive with these t-shirts but not with others?

  6. Kuhnie

    I don’t know about whether there is parody in the t-shirts, but there is parody enough in this comical story. Of all the people to get into this line of risque Hitler tees, who but a former Secretary of the Australian Arabic Council. Of all the law firms he gets to represent him doing it, who but Arnold Bloch Leibler. A spit-out-your-coffee-all-over-the-keyboard special to remind me why I keep reading Crikey. There’s got to be more. More, please! More!!

  7. BUBBLERAP

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

    Martin Hosking says these t-shirts “meet our guidelines”, using the Royal “we” because he means his guidelines – he is the final decision maker at RedBubble. Debating the issue with him is like debating with Humpty Dumpty what “guidelines” means.

    Hosking has been told 1941 was when Hitler announced his prediction of the annihilation of the Jews in Europe, so his tee “1941 – a race odyssey” references the start of the Holocaust. Hosking has been told the significance of Laskarzew as the first place Jews were massacred in WW2 by the Nazis, so his tee “Fear and Loathing in Laskarzew” is about this. He is not interested. These tees and less subtle slogans like “Back to the Fuhrer” or “Death Camp for Cutie” meet his “guidelines”. His “guidelines” allow support for Nazism expressed in these tees. He has had the Holocaust explained to him and yet his “guidelines” have stayed the same allowing these tees expressing approval of or making fun out of the Holocaust.

    The ADC may get the “guidelines” changed where so many others have failed.

  8. BUBBLE BURST

    The ADC did succeed in the end but what an extraordinary amount of public pressure was needed to get the correct decision made.

    Just read that it is the same Martin Hosking in Redbubble as the Martin Hosking who runs Aconex.

    http://www.extranetevolution.com/2011/06/first-hitler-next-serial-killer-t-shirts/