20 Apr Ripoff T-shirts take a bite out of March for Science fundraising
Ripoff T-shirts take a bite out of March for Science fundraising
March for Science organizers, worried that unauthorized sellers are cutting into their fundraising efforts, have been playing whack-a-mole for months in an effort to shut down new stores and targeted social media advertisements.
In recent weeks, they’ve had to contend with another group of potential competitors: March for Science partners themselves.
Official merchandise sales through the event’s main online retailer, Bonfire, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to defray expenses such as portable toilets and audio-visual equipment. And satellite marches keep the proceeds from what they sell.
However, the national organization isn’t providing financial support to satellites, and organizers of those smaller marches have watched with growing anxiety as competitors have swarmed in to sell their own T-shirts.
“Every March for Science shirt someone buys elsewhere is an opportunity that is lost to us,” said March for Science Los Angeles’s marketing and design director Dan Leibson. “Since we are a volunteer-run nonprofit, we don’t have the resources that private companies use to track and police [intellectual property] violations like this.”
Trademark applications have been filed on behalf of March for Science, Inc. — a nonprofit incorporated in Delaware — to prevent unauthorized uses of the event’s name and the logo. Although the applications haven’t yet been approved, organizers still have some recourse to shut down bad actors — including shaming them on social media.
One such seller, Teespring, has been host to some particularly egregious violations. In February, organizers began contacting Teespring on social media to have unofficial merchandise removed, and the company said it would “make it right.” In a statement last week, a spokesperson said, “Teespring has removed all infringing products from our platform and is proactively monitoring new designs to prevent future infringement of the March for Science’s trademarks.”
Still, as of Monday afternoon, a search for “march for science” on Teespring’s website returned at least 300 products, some with the March for Science logo and phrase.
More recently, organizers of local marches have also had to contend with authorized march shirts appealing to attendees. The American Geophysical Union offers March for Science-branded clothing, as does AAAS, the Genetics Society of America, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Typically, proceeds from these sales will go to the national march organization or to a related non-profit, as is the case with shirts that Bill Nye, an honorary co-chair of the event, recently started selling to benefit Nye’s space-oriented nonprofit, the Planetary Society.
Last week, the authorized March for Science merch market welcomed a new player: online custom printer CafePress. The company unveiled a March for Science collection, 10 percent of the profits from which will go to the Earth Day Network, which is officially co-organizing the Washington event.
Unfortunately, some of the merchandise initially offered on CafePress bore a striking resemblance to what local organizers have offered — including city-specific shirts, mugs, phone cases, and stickers. And those are profits those cities will never see.
After a reporter pointed this fact out to CafePress and a local march, the designs were promptly pulled. In an email, CafePress said the merchandise was being taken down because the Earth Day Network only has a partnership with the D.C.-area march, and therefore could not sell merchandise emblazoned with other city names.
Although CafePress acted quickly, organizers of satellite marches say unauthorized merchandise continues to be a daily frustration. “For all of us, shirt sales have been very important for fundraising,” said organizers of the Boston-based rally via email. “For many cities, it has been their most impactful fundraiser.”